COVID-19 exacerbated the SRH situation – Kyagera Nairuba Angella, Programme Officer at Cehurd

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the country, our health facilities faced unprecedented demand, many activists, advocates warned of the possible consequences this crisis could have on sexual and reproductive health services

The restriction of movement, stay at home orders meant that access to contraception (family planning) is considerably restricted while the risk of domestic violence has increased, both leading to a likely spike in unwanted pregnancies

On Thursday 1st, Oct, the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (Cehurd)- a non-profit, research and advocacy organization which is pioneering the justiciability of the right to health organized a webinar on lived experiences of Adolescents Girls and young women during COVID-19 and duty bearers and policymakers to share experiences about the impact of COVID-19 on access to Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights services and information for Adolescent Girls and Young women

Statistics clearly show that restricting abortion access does not decrease the demand for this procedure but instead results in unsafe abortions. Despite this fact, not all advocates, policymakers agree that abortion should be defined as an essential health service. However, many are convinced that ensuring women and pregnant mothers have access to safe abortion is more crucial than ever

Safe abortion is as an essential service as per World Health Organization guidelines and during the webinar, Kyagera Nairuba Angella, Programme Officer at Cehurd said; “over 300,000 abortion occur annually amongst women aged 15-49 and of which 83% are unsafe contributing to the 26% of the maternal mortality in Uganda”

The country has abstained from commenting on access to safe abortion as a public health concern and the Ministry of Health have gone as far as to try to decrease safe abortion access yet they spend billions of money on post-abortion services, the situation for adolescent girls and young women seeking safe abortion care is worrisome

Uganda ratified the Maputo Declaration in 2010 with a reservation on safe abortion; Under Article 14 (2) (c) of the Maputo Protocol, States Parties are called upon to take all appropriate measures to “protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother

COVID-19 pandemic has indeed threatened the access to Sexual Reproductive health and Rights services and information including access to family planning services by the Adolescent Girls and Young Women, and it is unfortunate that Uganda has never implemented the Maputo Declaration yet it made a commitment

Uganda’s restrictive abortion laws permit termination only to save the life of a pregnant woman. However, conflicting interpretations of the abortion provisions under the 1995 Constitution of Uganda, the Penal Code Act of 1950 and National Reproductive Health Policies have created confusion about the correct legal status of terminating pregnancies – Kyagera Nairuba Angella, Programme Officer added during her presentation

”Much as the youth-friendly services are at health facilities young girls and women still need more attention than ever before and we need to strengthen facilities by putting more human resource, and if they don’t receive the right information, they end up making wrong choices” – Ritah Namukisa, a Health worker from Buikwe district

Petter Chelengant, the police officer at Najja Police station said; “health workers fear to treat these girls because the law arrests them, and abortion is illegal and most of the teenagers end up dying in the village. I appeal to stakeholders to get the law and assist these teenagers”

In Kyagera Nairuba Angella’s conclusion, ”Health workers need to be trained in providing youth-friendly services and should ensure that there is a constant supply of Sexual reproductive services and goods”

Life or Laws? Unclear laws and policies on abortion in Uganda have left the Doctors, Justice actors and law enforcements…

Posted by Center for Health, Human rights and Development on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Frank Byaruhanga is a human rights activist with years of experience in community dialogues, digital communication, advocacy and digital campaigns. He specializes in Media Relation Work, Management and Training with sufficient knowledge in Governance, Accountability, Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights, Youth-led research, Content developer, Creative Activism, Social Media Management and documentary photography.

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