"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
These are the words spoken by former First Lady of the United States of America, Eleanor D. Roosevelt when she was addressing the first meeting of the Drafting Committee on an International Bill of Human Rights in 1947.
As the world commemorates International Human Rights Day, today 10th December 2016, we focus these words on the rights of pregnant women and children in Malawi and the challenges they are facing.
In recent years Malawi has made great strides in improving the health of its citizen. The evidence shows that Malawi achieved MDG 4. The under-five mortality rate declined from 242 to 64 between 1990 and 2015, that’s a decrease of 81%.
The Countdown to 2015 in-depth case study found that progress was achieved through early adoption and effective implementation of evidence-based policies to address the major causes of child deaths. This is in large part down to the policies and health system improvements that have been made in the field of women’s and children’s over this period.
This may sound like good news to the ear, but our country still faces a number of human rights challenges when it comes to the improvement of maternal health service delivery. Malawi was far from successful in achieving MDG 5. The maternal mortality ratio (MMR) between 1990 and 2015 fell by only 38% (from 957 to 634 with wide uncertainty intervals in the estimates), meaning Malawi was grouped in the countries making ‘no progress’ on MDG 5 by the UN group responsible for measuring MMR.
As we work towards progressing as we strive towards achieving the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) several human rights factors come into play as to why the country still faces some challenges, including gender discrimination and lack of education for women.
Quality of Care
Quality of Care in the health system is another health right which every woman deserves from their service provider. Most women prefer to deliver at home due to discrimination at clinics by health care workers. Some feel their privacy is not respected or are not well received at the clinics during antenatal visits. In addition, there is still a gap of assisted births by skilled providers between urban and rural.
Research shows that 95.4% of births in urban areas are assisted by skilled providers as compared to 88.9% of births in rural areas. This is a violation of the basic human right where access to health care is supposed to be universal and provided to all. Malawi, like many other countries on our beautiful continent, should place deliberate effort to where access to quality health care is available everywhere. Our government should make efforts to invest in skilled health workers in the rural areas so that all women have access to quality of care.
International Human Rights day
MamaYe Malawi acknowledges the great efforts that are taking place throughout the country in ensuring that mothers and newborns are getting the best of care. The government has made various efforts and commitments to invest in health care. Hence, as the country today joins the rest of the world in commemorating International Human Rights Day, we call upon the government and all stakeholders to ensure that the rights of mothers are protected by investing in health care.
This can be through:
- Increase health financing and investments
- Make health care accessible to all and that women in the rural areas receive the same quality of care than urban women by skilled health workers and providers
- Ensure that women’s rights are protected that there be no discrimination against them
- Invest in the education of women and girls as they have the right to quality education
- Ensure that rights of patients are protected when they receive care at clinics
- Health facilities have access to right to water and sanitation to prevent infectious diseases
MamaYe believes that if we all take part and contribute all our efforts in maternal health, Malawi will be able to reduce the maternal deaths.
We will also be able to answer the question asked by Eleanor D. Roosevelt, "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” In small, remote villages in Nkhata Bay, Rumphi and Mzimba where the rights of pregnant mothers are protected.