Government has been sued in the High Court for turning the newly opened specialised women and neonatal (new born) hospital at Mulago into a private facility charging exorbitant user fees from pregnant women who cannot afford the cost.
The suit was filed in the Kampala High Court on Friday by a civil society organisation, Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD). The civil society organisation contends that before the specialised hospital was built, services were free at Mulago Hospital.
The petitioner states that in 2001, there was a presidential directive that abolished the payment of user fees in all public health facilities, a move aimed at increasing access to health care in the country.
“The act of turning a public service into a private service at the Mulago specialised women’s and neonatal hospital is a violation of the State’s obligation to protect women and their rights taking into account their unique status and natural functions in society and provide facilities necessary to enhance the welfare of women provided for in Article 32 (1), 32 (2) and (3) of the Constitution,” the petition reads in part.
In support of the suit, Ms Noor Musisi Nakibuuka, the director of programmes at CEHURD, said after the specialised hospital was opened last year, the health minister, Dr Ruth Acheng, on September 18, 2018, announced that the services would be provided at a fee.
This, she said, replaced what had been free services provided within the old national referral centre.
“Government then developed a pay policy that it alleges to be based on similar charges in private health facilities within the country and abroad for people, who want to access the specialised maternal and child healthcare services. The services are classified as standard VIP and VVIP,” Ms Nakibuuka said.
The specialised hospital, which was officially opened by President Museveni on October 2 last year, has a 450 bed capacity with nine floors.
The ninth floor is the executive wing with suites.
The state of the art hospital, offers specialised healthcare services primarily through referral including emergency obstetric care, treatment of cervical cancer, repairing of fistula and many other conditions that are related to reproductive health.
The petitioner is seeking court orders that a freely accessible public national referral wing be established within the Mulago specialised women’s and neonatal hospital, Parliament investigates the set up and operations of the waiver committee and the pay policy.
Other orders sought are the Equal Opportunities Commission carries out an audit on the impact of charging fees for material and child health care services at the specialised facility within six months from the date of judgment.
Funding. Mulago Women’s Referral Hospital whose official name is Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital was constructed at a budgeted cost of US$34.14m consisting of a loan of US$33m from the Islamic Development Bank and US$1.14m in direct funding by the Government of Uganda.