By Ronald Musoke
Experts have urged the government to sensitize men on their fatherhood duties and responsibilities in order to reduce the number of women in Uganda who are dying during the reproductive process.
“We need each other to reproduce and we need each other’s support to reproduce safely. Men and women have complimentary roles as far as the reproduction process is concerned,” said Dr. Charles Kiggundu, a consultant of gnaecology and obstetrics at Mulago Hospital.
Dr. Kiggundu was speaking recently during the Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)-organized induction of journalists into a one-year long media fellowship on reporting on sexual reproductive health and rights in Uganda.
“Since women carry the burden of pregnancy and motherhood, men must carry the burden of fatherhood with its responsibilities,” he said.
He said Ugandans need to identify and give importance to the roles of fatherhood to men. For instance, more needs to be done to help women space children, access pre-natal, obstetric and post-natal care in the country and men can get involved in each of these processes.
“Birth spacing is one well known fact that can reduce tremendously the risk of maternal deaths.”
He further argued that since there are few and countable high-willed fathers who commit to raising their children when their wives die, the men should play their fatherhood role in order to preserve the lives and health of the mothers.
Kiggundu also noted that in order for sexual reproductive health in the country to improve, all stakeholders must cooperate to realize benefits.
Kiggundu said the reason Uganda is likely to double her current population by 2054 is because Ugandans are highly sexually active.
By the age of 15, 60% of Ugandans have had their sexual debut, and by 19, over 80% of the population is sexually active, while the average age of getting married is as low as 16 years.
About two million pregnancies occur in Uganda every year and about 1.6m births take place in the same period, and since about 400,000 deaths occur in the same period, this leaves Uganda with a net population increase of about one million people each year.
Kiggundu however noted that two out of three pregnancies are high risk, mainly because two out of three are not planned.
This, he said, means that women carrying these pregnancies have a one in 16 chance of dying during pregnancy or while giving birth.
This is one of the reasons as to why the country will not achieve the fifth millennium development goal that seeks to reduce the number of mothers dying during the reproductive process.
With two years to go, Uganda’s maternal mortality ratio stands at 438 per 100,000 live births in comparison to the original target of 135:100,000.
“When a woman gets pregnant in Uganda, they put one foot in the grave and literally struggle not to have the other [leg] there,” he said.
Kiggundu noted that this needs to change because each time a mother dies, there is misery everywhere.
When the mother dies, the baby, for instance, has 10 times the risk of dying before reaching the age of one month and three times the risk of dying before reaching the age of five, he noted.
Prof Ben. Twinomugisha from the School of Law at Makerere University reiterated the importance of courting men to participate in the reproductive health process.
Many men, he said, are sub-consciously concerned about their wives’ health, especially when women are into labour; however, they still need to be sensitized about their responsibilities.
Twinomugisha who gave the human rights perspective of the state of reproductive health in the country noted that many women are dying unnecessarily due to poor policies.
He noted that although he is a staunch catholic, he thinks it is time Uganda reviewed the law that criminalizes abortion, an issue that Moses Mulumba, the executive director of CEHURD supported.
Mulumba argued that the current number of 16 deaths would drastically reduce if abortion became more accessible to those who genuinely want them.
“Out of the 16 women who die every day, 3-5 of them die due to unsafe abortions,” he said.
As long as there are laws that prohibit abortion, there will always be unsafe underground abortions noted Prof Ssegane Musisi from the Department of Medicine at Makerere University’s School of Medicine.
“Unsafe abortions are very much linked to the laws prohibiting abortion and lack of contraception,” Prof Ssegane said.