By Yusef Taylor and Sainabou Sambou
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) held a validation of the 2019 Universal Periodic Review Midterm Assessment Report on Thursday 4th August 2022 at their Headquarters in Kotu. The event was attended by the President of the Gambia Bar Association, representatives from the United Nations Regional Office, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Civil Society Advocates and the Media. The validation workshop allowed approximately 30 delegates to assess the progress made in implementing recommendations from the Gambia’s 2019 Universal Periodic Review.
NHRC Chairperson Mr Emmanuel Daniel Joof explained to delegates present that “the UPR is a unique process involving a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States and gives States the opportunity to discuss measures adopted to improve the human rights situation in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights”.
NHRC Chairperson Joof noted that the 2019 UPR was reviewed on 5th November 2019 and is only the third submission since the UPR Process was established in 2006. Prior to this the Gambia rarely participated in the UPR Process due to the poor human rights record of former President Yahya Jammeh whose rule came to an end after he fled to Equatorial Guinea following his December 2016 Elections defeat to current President Adama Barrow.
Chairperson Joof added that “222 recommendations were issued, 207 recommendations were accepted while 15 of these recommendations were noted”. Determined to ensure that the Gambia’s 2019 UPR doesn’t turn into a tick-the-box exercise Chairperson Joof enthused that the review of progress made “ensures that the country’s review in 2019 does not remain a mere process between the UPR Working Group and the Government of The Gambia but rather that various stakeholders and the public as a whole are included in the outcome process as required by the UN Resolution”.
A representative from the MoJ delivered a speech on behalf of the Minister of Justice, Hon Dawda Jallow, which noted that the Minister “found the report concise and informative depicting [the] government’s progress as well as its challenges in the implementation process”. The MoJ’s statement also revealed that “a fully functional Human Rights Unit is in the offing at the Ministry and in due course, we will improve in these score cards”.
This publication focuses on two recommendations detailed in the 2019 UPR Mid-Term Assessment Report focusing on the number of health facilities and maternal mortality.
Health facilities and Health Workers
The Progress Report notes that some “Health Facilities were constructed or refurbished from 2020-2021: Essau Health Center, Njau Health Post, Bansang Haemodialysis Center including the construction of 8 treatment centers in the regions”. However, “while the Government has done adjustments to health infrastructure, there remains inadequate and sub-standard infrastructures in the healthcare services with inadequate staff quarters for health professionals in the regions and a high attrition rate of staff due to lack of incentives”.
The high attrition rate means that a lot of staff are leaving the MoH due to low salaries, allowances and other incentives. It’s also worth highlighting that the Association of Public and Environmental Health Officers (APEHOG) and the Government were locked in a dispute which saw protests from APEHOG members for allowances owed to them that were not paid. In retaliation, the Government decided to suspend some 371 health workers. The situation has now been resolved after APEHOG Staff returned to work on 1st August 2022.
The Progress Report adds that “there is inadequate material and equipment for maternal health services with limited trained human resources (including midwives, gynaecologists and cardio experts)”.
The maternal mortality section in the Progress Report highlights that “from 2013 to 2019-20, under-5 mortality increased from 54 to 56 deaths per 1,000 live births” and “infant mortality increased from 34 to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births”. Infants are typically babies under one year of age. Similarly, “neonatal mortality rose from 22 to 29 deaths per 1,000 live births”. Neonatal maternity is usually provided to babies born prematurely usually for babies from birth to 28 days of age.
The report notes that “maternal mortality decreased from 433 to 289 [deaths] per 100,000 [live births]”. Although this represents a reduction of 144 deaths per 100,000 live births from 2013 to 2019-20 the Progress Report notes that more needs to be done. “These results undermine the gains The Gambia has made over the years in the reduction of infant mortality” concluded the section under maternal mortality in the Progress Report.