Re-engaging religious leaders to respond to HIV/AIDS, Maternal Health and Gender-based Violence

Re-engaging religious leaders to respond to HIV/AIDS, Maternal Health and Gender-based Violence

Ladies and gentlemen, as the MDG deadline approaches, about 1 billion people still live on less than $1.25 a day, and more than 800 million people do not have enough food to eat. Women are still fighting hard for their rights, and millions die in childbirth. The situation is even graver in sub-Saharan Africa, and Uganda in particular, where we lose 16 mothers a day during child birth. HIV/AIDS remains a big challenge to Uganda, despite the country’s incredible efforts, yet again, the media is awash with reports of rampant gender based violence in homes and the communities.

As religious leaders, we are aware that Uganda is having one of the largest youth population entering child bearing years. Besides, the demographic change is accelerating faster than predicted, which in our view will increase even further the reproductive health demand gaps and increase the unmet need for family planning. Investment in family planning, therefore, may boost the overall effectiveness of every shilling spent on the provision of pregnancy-related and newborn health care.

As a country, we have the capacity to make considerable progress in improving maternal, newborn and child health including fighting gender-based violence, thanks to the strong political leadership, sound policies and investment in the macro economy. I am certain this will upgrade the health service delivery and social wellbeing of the citizens of Uganda. It is gratifying to note that we have, and are still taking action as reflected in Uganda’s Demographic and Health Survey (UDHS 2011).

We must continue to re-assess our challenges and renew our efforts in order to ensure that our collective aspirations as a country become a reality. There cannot and should not be any complacency. Education, effective health services and access to family planning are important elements in empowering young girls and women, as well as saving their lives, and that of their children – our future.

Our expectant mothers symbolize our posterity; each healthy birth is a step towards securing a healthy and sustainable future. Therefore, any maternal death is one too many, no matter how great the statistics look. Improving maternal health and neonatal mortality requires everyone’s commitment and effort as they are inextricably tied to economic development, gender equality, social interaction, poverty, HIV and AIDS, welfare of young people, family planning and education.

But the Ministry of Health cannot do it alone. In order to optimize results, we need to adopt an integrated approach to reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality within the overall continuum of care. The impact of our combined efforts shall be much greater than the sum of our individual efforts.

As religious leaders, we should play an indispensable role in our communities. Our personal leadership and commitment are vital to making a real difference—to move people forward from just talking to taking action. We can mobilize and organize social movements around the church and mosque.  This space can be strengthened and made available to empower God’s people to demand for health and other services, hence making meaningful change in their lives, and contributing to real development of our societies.

In conclusion, the high level review meeting on HIV and AIDS, maternal and reproductive health, and gender based violence prevention programmes; provided an opportunity of partnership for us to work in ways that allow each stakeholder to operate in our areas of strength. I am optimistic that valuable recommendations will be arrived at that will act as a springboard for accelerated response to meet the maternal health needs in Uganda. By working together, we can transform the lives of women, their families and communities for a better Uganda.

I pray that this meeting gave direction and put in motion a campaign to stop the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as gender based violence in our communities; and improve on the maternal health. A campaign that we will all take to our places of worship – the mosques and churches every Friday, Saturday and Sunday when we meet with God’s people.

Finally, I sincerely thank our partners the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), World Vision, and indeed all our stakeholders for having made this meeting a reality.

Joshua Kitakule

Secretary General