UGANDA – Maternal and newborn deaths in lockdown

Scovia Nakawooya’s baby died inside her as she struggled to reach a hospital on foot to give birth. She died hours later – one of at least seven women in labour to become casualties of Uganda’s Covid-19 lockdown, a rights group said.

Fearful that the viral pandemic could overwhelm already overburdened hospitals, authorities have banned private transport without special authorisation. But in a poor country with few ambulances, the travel ban can be deadly for some.

The Women’s Pro Bono legal initiative, a human rights group in Uganda, says seven women in labour and two babies have died because they were forced to walk to hospital to give birth. The Ministry of Health said it was investigating the reports and could not comment yet.

The government ban on private transport in place since March 30 includes people suffering medical emergencies. But public health officials say barring vehicles from the road is making it hard for patients and personnel to reach medical facilities. With public ambulances scarce, Ugandans typically reach hospital in private vehicles, but now need special permits to drive from resident district commissioners.

There is no central number to call and only one or two officials can authorise a journey in each of Uganda’s 134 districts. Many commissioners have not shared their numbers or do not answer, citizens have complained in local media. Nakawooya’s family had no idea who to call as she writhed in pain on April 3. Her husband begged drivers to take her to a hospital a mile and a half away. Grace Nagawa, the couple’s 19-year-old daughter, wept as she described her mother’s 90-minute struggle to reach help. “Sometimes she would stop, bend and put her hand on her thigh to support her body, just to rest a bit,” Nagawa said.

A doctor who examined Nakawooya at the BMC Medical Centre said she appeared to be suffering a premature separation of the placenta from the uterus. She died at the medical centre the next morning.

The six other reports of women who died in labour because they could not reach a hospital included one in Wakiso, where police drove a woman in labour to hospital after she bled heavily all night, but she died anyway. In Alebtong district, two babies died in childbirth, although their mothers survived. And in Kenya, the family of a motorbike taxi driver said police beat him to death when he violated a Covid-19 curfew on March 27 to take a woman in labour to hospital.

SOURCE: Thomsen Reuters, by Elias Biryabarema, 9 April 2020 ; PHOTO: Scovia Nakawooya’s husband and children with her photo, by Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters