On a cloudy Wednesday afternoon, the maternity ward at Mukono health centre IV looks quite busy, with expectant mothers trudging in and out.
Other women are sleeping on their sides on the verandah, inside the ward and in the corridor more lie on the floor. But for a place more associated with the joy of new-born babies, the part of the health centre has a most-dreadful smell. Investigating the source of the stench leads me behind the ward, where a group of youths and a carpenter surround the offending pit latrine.
It is students of Mukono High School and their chaplain, Ms Olive Luvumu. They have brought donation of two doors for shuttering the mothers’ pit latrine, which has not been closed since it was constructed two years ago. Luvumu initiated the fundraising drive, after noticing the problem, when she had a patient here in August.
“When I wanted to ease myself, I was shocked to find that the latrines had no shutters,” says Luvumu. “I mobilised female students at our school and we raised money (Shs 120,000) which we have used to buy the shutters. The privacy of a woman is not supposed to be exposed to every passerby.”
Norah Nakimuli, a midwife at the health centre, says they knew about the problem, but blames it on the government which constructed the latrine but never put doors. Nakimuli is thankful to the corporate social responsibility by the school: “Helping is not about who helps who. Anyone can help in any alarming situation.”
Open latrines have not been the only challenge at the health centre. The maternity ward has eight beds, but at least 15 mothers deliver here daily.
“Government supplies such as gloves, cotton and drugs that help women not to lose much blood during and after delivery have always not been enough,” Nakimuli says. “They should also consider expanding the maternity ward since we have many women delivering from here.”
The expectant mothers who are lying in the corridors have to wait here until just before delivery, when they can be given a bed, if it is available.
“At times, we deliver from the floor. Privacy is also not enough in the delivery ward because windows are transparent,” says one woman, sighing with such labour pain I choose not to ask for her name.
Dr Anthony Kkonde, the principal medical officer of Mukono municipality, admits that the services are wanting but shrugs, saying that the health centre does not make money.
“We wait for what the government gives us. It is a public facility where we treat people from everywhere. Because of that, what we get can’t be enough,” he says.
Underfunding of health services remains a big problem in Africa. In April 2001, African Union countries pledged to increase government funding for health to at least 15 per cent.
Only Rwanda has reached the target of that Abuja declaration. Uganda allocated only 8 per cent of the budget to the health sector in the financial year 20142015, although in absolute terms, the amount increased from Shs 1,129.207 to Shs 1,197.8bn. But health workers say they try their best. Kkonde says that in the last financial year, 5225 women delivered from the centre, 2,000 of whom came from outside Mukono.
“We never lost any mother,” Kkonde says proudly.
When the maternity ward was built in 1991, it was large enough, Kkonde says. But due to population growth and urbanisation in Mukono, it is no longer sufficient. Kkonde, however, revealed that funding had already been secured for a new 20-bed maternity ward, with construction expected to start in January.
Source : The Observer