Is healthcare a right? What is a human right? Why is this important in Africa? Wednesday was spent meeting people who offered different perspectives on these questions and elucidated new ideas for progress in Uganda.
This is a country rife with the denial of basic rights. From a lack of educational opportunities for youth to food insecurity in the rural areas to widespread abductions of children by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in the north—denial of rights is widespread.
In America, we rarely think about human rights, and most of us don't really even know what they are. But here, in Uganda, people are acutely aware of them. The lack of rights is so severe that it affects daily life. Access to food may be a human right, but if the soil is too poor to grow anything, then how can that right be assured? If water sources are running dry due to climate change, then how can the right to water be fulfilled? These are basic life necessities that are lacking in parts of Uganda, and the rights-based approach can empower the people to demand that they have access to these things. It is up to the governing powers, however, to build sustainable systems for delivery of basic rights.
As enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, healthcare is one of those basic human rights. In Uganda, there are so few doctors being trained, and even fewer choose to stay on here after their schooling is over. Brain drain to industrialized nations has crippled this country's ability to effectively respond to the healthcare needs of this country, from basic primary care and obstetrics to a burgeoning HIV/AIDS epidemic. It really falls on the government here to encourage doctors to stay; one way they could do so is by paying them more adequately.
Throwing money at the problem is not the most effective solution in a country that has serious problems with corruption, accountability and rule of law. Uganda has developed a bad reputation for mismanaging aid money, as evidenced by the recent withdrawal of Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. This has led to increased hesitancy by international donors to give money. As a consequence, there are no drugs left here to treat TB, and this country has the 15 highest disease burden in the world.
Before money can simply be channeled into the system, it must be ensured that an accountable and transparent government exists and is kept in check by the people. Civil society involvement is essential, and that is why all of these human rights groups who we visited on Wednesday exist. People need to know what their rights are and that they must exercise them by voting and holding the government accountable if they want anything to change.