UGANDA: HIV-positive women stigmatised by major hospital - report
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
KAMPALA, 31 March (PLUSNEWS) - HIV-positive pregnant women are experiencing discrimination and abuse at Mulago Hospital, Uganda's largest referral facility, according to a report published by a local human rights NGO, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).
Researchers documented the testimonies of women who alleged that nurses and midwives in the labour ward at Mulago had refused to provide medical assistance to expectant mothers and had verbally abused them on the grounds of their HIV status.
The women are members of a psychosocial support group known as the 'Mama Club', established by The AIDS Support Organisation (TASO), a local NGO, to bring together women living with the stigma of being infected with the HI virus.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's administration has been internationally praised for its aggressive stance against HIV/AIDS, at a time when the pandemic was still one of Africa's most taboo subjects.
The pioneering 'Abstain, Be Faithful, use a Condom (ABC)' strategy became a continent-wide model and has been credited with bringing down Uganda's prevalence rates from over 20 percent to the current level of about six percent. However, the FHRI report confirmed that the disease still carries a stigma.
Mulago Hospital, in Kampala, cares for Ugandans living in the capital and its environs, most of whom cannot afford private medical services.
Anne, 40, a mother of five, told FHRI she believed her baby was HIV-positive as a result of negligence by a Mulago midwife, because "when I gave birth the baby fell in a pool of blood". When a midwife finally came to attend to her, "the gloves she was wearing had been used on someone else", but the nurse told her that since she was HIV-positive, there was "no new ailment she was adding", and that Anne's fate was "sealed".
Another mother, 28-year-old Mary, reported that nurses in the labour ward had insulted her after refusing to assist her when they found she was HIV positive. "They asked me who I expected to handle me, and why I got pregnant in the first place," she told researchers.
TASO spokesperson Anne Kaddumukasa told PlusNews she was concerned that the stigmatisation experienced by HIV-positive women in Mulago could be more widespread.
"Currently, health workers lack sensitisation of how HIV is transmitted. We are trying to sensitise them, so that they are aware that it is not fair to discriminate against HIV-positive women," she said.
Minister of State for Health Mike Mukula rejected the suggestion that nurses and midwives lacked training in how HIV was transmitted.
"All midwives and nurses are fully aware about how HIV is transmitted, and a number are trained in counselling HIV victims," he said. "HIV infected people must be handled in an equal manner to those whose sero-status is negative; indeed, they must be handled with extra care."
Wendy Kasujja, an FHRI spokesperson, described the actions of Mulago's medical staff as "a fundamental violation of human rights", and alleged that Mulago Hospital regularly required HIV-positive pregnant women to bring up to four pairs of surgical gloves, instead of the usual one pair required of expectant mothers.
"Mulago Hospital is a government hospital and we expect the provision of gloves by the health authority to be a pre-requisite," she said. "The failure to provide gloves - and risk the life of mother and child - is wrong."
Mukula said the Ministry of Health had asked Mulago's executive director, Dr Dumba, to look into the allegations.
FHRI recommended that medical personnel in Uganda's government hospitals, and Mulago Hospital in particular, undergo counselling and training in handling HIV-positive patients, with an emphasis on the treatment of pregnant women.