By Olimatou Coker
Activist group Gambian Women’s Lives Matter on Saturday staged a protest march against what they called the escalating rate of maternal mortality.
The protest, which lasted about two hours, was also attended by civil society, human rights organisations and individual rights campaigners.
The group said over 200 women and 90 babies have died during delivery over the past year which they blame on either incompetence or lack of facilities and or medicine at health facilities.
In their message addressed to the public and the authorities, the group commended government for its support towards the health sector during COVID-19 and noted the attention that the health sector gained over time due to many health challenges that the world is faced with.
However, the group added: “As an advocacy group, the Gambian Women’s Lives Matter are concerned that despite international commitments and efforts by the Government in promotion and protection of the rights and welfare of girls and women, our mothers and sisters continue to die in their numbers during childbirth. Pregnancy has become a life sentence for many when it should be a blessing and joy in the noble task of procreation for the continued survival and existence of the human race on earth. Hence pregnancy is special and every effort must be made to make it safe, enjoyable and peaceful.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case of many women in this country. This is a huge cause for concern for us and we hold that the State is failing in its duty to vigorously and proactively respect, protect and fulfill the rights of these women”.
The group continued: “’The daily accounts indicate that we lose two or more women during childbirth due to lack of blood, poor hospital conditions including lack of necessary medical equipment or even electricity and water supply and ambulance services among others, which pose a direct contravention to the Government’s obligations while undermining the right to life of women. We hold that no Gambia woman should die just to give birth to another Gambia. Both lives must live and in good health .We are therefore calling on the Government and all stakeholders that this march is a call to action. We are hereby making the following demands to the Gambia Government and all relevant State institutions for urgent and comprehensive action.
1. To institute a commission of inquiry to publicly investigate all maternal deaths over the last 5 years with a view to ascertain the reasons and identify measures to address them.
2. To open a public inquiry on the utilization of the funds given to the health sector during COVID-19 to ensure that every butut was well spent in line with the law, and where here have been cases of corruption and mismanagement, necessary measures of accountability are undertaken.
3. To increase the budgetary allocation to the health sector to the 15% agreed in line with the AU Abuja Declaration of 2001.
4. The Ministry of Health to take responsibility for all babies of mothers who died out of negligence, incompetence, lack of proper infrastructure or for lack of adequate and timely information.
5. The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare as well as the Department of Social Welfare to be fully strengthened and empowered to take up their roles more effectively to serve women and girls.
6. Government to eliminate all costs related to antenatal and postnatal care and strengthen the O&G units of all health facilities in the country to ensure availability, access, and quality.”
There was no government official at the rally, however speaking at a rally in Foni, the Minister of Health Dr Lamin Samateh disagreed with the campaigners. “They are coming up with their own figures but don’t listen to them; it is all politics,” he said.
Reacting, activist Aisha Sarjo said the data collected by their group is authentic as it is often accompanied by pictures of the victims.
“I wonder how anyone can doubt a death which has been proven with pictures. Who would announce someone dead who is still alive?” she said on Kerr Fatou’s The Brunch Saturday. Sarjo dismissed suggestions that any politician backs the campaigners.