By Keefa Nuwahereza
Human rights lawyers in Uganda under their umbrella body Patients Voice Network (PAVON), have urged the Ministry of Health and other concerned government authorities to endeavour to protect the rights of patients, medical workers and all Ugandans as the country struggles to fight the deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak .
The lawyers led by Dr Amon Aruho, who is also a medical practitioner, penned a petition titled ‘A Call To Observe Patients And Health Workers’ Rights In The Wake To Contain COVID-19 Pandemic’, which they have since copied to President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda National Consumers Organisation, Uganda Health Care Federation and other organisations .
The lawyers contend that despite the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is need to observe the rights of all patients and medical workers if we are to fight Coronavirus as Ugandans.
In their petition, the lawyers state thus; Our attention has been drawn to this global pandemic COVID-19 that has since caused far reaching effects on Patients and Health Workers rights of different countries all over the world.
Against this backdrop, and as a way of averting the spread of COVID-19 in Uganda, the Ministry of Health has provided measures and guidelines which were subsequently followed by the Presidential directives to include among others: Suspension of public transport, restrictions on inland and outside travels and a total lockdown of the country for 14 days.
The Patients Voice Network (PAVON), a network of 10 organizations spread all over the country that advocates and enforces health rights and equity at this critical time stands with the rest of the world and Ugandans in particular to fight the spread of COVID-19.
We specially applaud the efforts of ministry of health for having ratified the Presidential Directives by way of issuing and gazetting statutory notice as provided in the Public Health Act that gave the Presidential directives the force of law.
PAVON is cognizant that this Pandemic challenge is enormous and it calls for extraordinary interventions that have been demonstrated by government to which we are grateful; we are however concerned about the increasing Patients and Health Rights abuses meted out on Patients and Health Workers during the enforcement of the Presidential directives.
Therefore, as a Health rights Network we are deeply concerned and condemn strongly the manner in which some of these directives have been interpreted and enforced by the security agents. We are also concerned that although these directives are well-intentioned, their enforcement may have adverse effects on the right to health of Ugandans. In light of the above, our attention has been drawn to the following health rights
Torture and Degrading treatment of Patients and Health workers.
Over the past week there have been recorded incidents of torturing both Patients and Health Workers With several arrests and even battering. A case in point was the gruesome and Wanton beating of Dr. Gidoi Dennis, an intern Doctor with Hoima Regional Referral Hospital.
Further, one of the trending videos shows a Police officer caning un-identified pregnant woman who has since instituted legal action against the police. We categorically condemn such actions by state agents as they amount to violation of the right to Health and freedom from being subjected to any form of torture or cruel, in humane or degrading treatment guaranteed under Article 24,22 and 44 of the 1995 Constitution.
Mobility of Health Workers.
Health Workers were classified as essential services but up to now most of them, more so Health Workers in the private sector have failed to Secure movement stickers to reach their designated workplaces.
Provision of Personal Protective Equipment(PPE).
The minister of Health in one of the press statements intimated that only COVID-19 Health Facilities will get PPE due to their scarcity and lack of enough money. This means that Health Workers in non COVID-19 Health Facilities are working without PPE.
Access to medical services by Patients.
In the quest to control unregulated Movements of persons, the President vested powers of authorization within the Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), for all those seeking medical care including Expectant mothers. However, we think that this directive should have exempted terminally ill, chronic illness like HIV that need monthly refill and expectant mothers whose conditions often require emergency healthcare. Therefore, such a directive will only exacerbate maternal mortality incidences hence defeating the intention of the National Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy XIV and XX on ensuring access to health services by the population.
Psycho-social management of Suspects, cases and Communities.
It has come to our notice that some COVID-19 Health facilities are providing some Psycho-social Support to suspects and cases of COVID-19. However due to the fact that some facilities lack Psycho-social management teams even when there are COVID-19 suspects under Mandatory institutional quarantine and upon finishing the mandatory time in quarantine and they are allowed to go back to their families without any Counseling, this may later on have an impact in their lives because of the mental anguish and trauma.
Address the rise in maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.
While we may pray that the Pandemic situation is contained hence the stringent measures put, we advocate that other fundamental Health rights should not be violated. We are live to the fact that some pregnant women have died because they are denied permits and cannot go to health facilities, others are delivering by the roadside as they walk to health facilities and there is acute shortage of blood that generally complicates the situation for mothers that may need blood transfusion after giving birth.
Premising on the above highlighted concerns, we all should be cognizant that Health rights are derived from the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR); Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); African Convention on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), to which Uganda is a state party. Further, the 1995 Constitution under objective XIV, XX and article 8(A) of the constitution in the light of the raised concerns.
We Hereby Appeal And Make The Following Recommendations To Government;
To exempt expectant mothers, chronic Patients with monthly refills and other terminally ill persons in need of emergency health care from seeking authorization from the RDCs. Alternatively, they can utmost seek authorization from the nearest Local Councils.
To allow Health Workers be able to reach their workstation by way of using their Identity cards or their practicing certificates since the sticker has been found not to be effective.
To portray a more balanced view of implementing the lockdown and come up with strategies of implementation that are fair and just to all Patients and Health Workers. On the issue of blood shortages we recommend the government to devise means of getting blood despite the lockdown.
To the Uganda Police Force
Uganda police to prevail over errant Police officers and punish them for individual actions meted out on the public in form of torture and inhumane degrading treatment.
UPDF to prevail over errant Local Defense officers and put up a human rights Abuse response Centre where such errant officers can be reported and handled.
To the Media
To guard against spreading false news that might cause panic to the population amidst the current crisis. To document all health rights violations and abuses meted out on the public by enforcement agencies such as LDUs.
To Civil Society Organizations
To Sensitize the Public about COVID-19 and the impact it causes on Human Rights enjoyment and Observance through their online media Platforms and report any human rights violation during this scourge.
To heed the Presidential directives by staying home, keeping safe and observing Health precautions such as washing hands to avoid the spread of COVID-19. To use the response mechanisms available to report any rights violations and abuses.
For more information reach Uganda Police Force toll free line 0800199699 and PAVON on +256414532123.
Once again, we take this opportunity to applaud the efforts of Ministry of Health and H.E the President in fighting COVID-19 and appeal to the responsible authorities and Institutions to consider our concerns and recommendations to ensure that the rights of Patients and the front line soldiers being the Health Workers are upheld as we combat this deadly pandemic.
Dr Aruho is the head of Enforcement of Patients and Health Workers Rights (EPHWOR), working together with Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation (UNCHO), Coalition for Health Promotion and Development, Action Group for Human Rights HIV and AIDS (AGHA Uganda), Progressive Health Partnership, Medical Legal Society of Uganda (UMELES), Health Equity and Policy Initiative (HEAPI) and Uganda Health Care Federation.
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