By: Meredith L. Ritchie, White Ribbon Alliance
Uganda deserves praise! The government recently committed to recruiting more than 1,014 midwives; 1,436 nurses; 758 nursing officers; 223 medical doctors; 283 anesthetists; 1,101 clinical officers; and 1,360 laboratory technicians for the fiscal year of 2012-13, according to the White Ribbon Alliance of Uganda.
The lifetime risk of death for a pregnant woman in Uganda is 1 in 35, according to the 2011 UDHS report. Additionally, Uganda’s 2012 Human Resources for Health Bi-Annual Report found that the proportion of approved positions filled by health workers at all levels nationally was only 58%, with some district hospitals having as low as only 16% filled posts. The report also found that health workers were poorly motivated and faced unsatisfactory working conditions. The Ugandan government also committed to raising health workers’ salaries from approximately $480 a month to $1,000 month in January 2013, in order to attract more workers to the rural, hard-to-serve areas of the country. This will hopefully relieve the alarming statistic found by a 2008 World Bank study: 80% of public sector medical workers in Uganda work in urban areas, where only 20% of the population lives.
Frontline health workers are often the first point of maternal services for Ugandan women, and they are essential for the management of safe pregnancies. Midwives, nurses and doctors are vital for progress on maternal and child survival. Ensuring that a health worker is within reach, and is trained, equipped and supported, is crucial to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. During labor, complications cannot always be predicted and may rapidly become life-threatening. Countries where most births are attended by a health professional with the skills to spot and manage complications generally have lower death rates for mothers.
If this commitment from Uganda is fully met, the country’s health sector budget will increase from 7% to about 8% of the national budget. This map and graphic illustrates the critical need for skilled birth attendants across the world, and emphasizes the importance of frontline health workers in saving lives.
Moving forward, the White Ribbon Alliance of Uganda and Coalition to End Maternal Mortality members will convene a reflection meeting to focus on monitoring and accountability mechanisms for these new health funds.