Abstract – Notes on the rights of a poor woman in a poor country

Tarek Meguid
Health and Human Rights 10/1
Published June 2008 

It is possible to adapt to a given situation precisely because you have got to live it, and you have got to live it every day. But adapting does not mean that you forget. You go to the mill every day — it is always unacceptable to you, it has always been unacceptable to you, and it remains so for life — but you adapt in the sense that you cannot continue to live in a state of conflict with yourself.
— Steve Biko1
Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.
— Winston Churchill2

Human rights: Illusion and hope?

Those of us in health care who work on “the ground,” as it is commonly called, occasionally have doubts about the relationship between human rights and health. That is, when we have time to consider such matters.

What are our questions, and why do we have such doubts? We wonder if it is possible to uphold human rights ideals within the health care arena, if it is possible to adhere to the principles that have, in fact, nurtured the roots of our own dedication to each day’s work. Why? Perhaps it is because we must deliver as many as 30 babies on one clinic shift shared with only one other colleague. Perhaps it is because we perform more than three hysterectomies each week for ruptured uteri. Or because we see more than one mother die in childbirth every few days. Maybe it is because we were taught how to treat life-threatening conditions, but we lack the drugs, equipment, and professional staff to provide such basic treatment. Perhaps it is because we feel as desperate as the women that we care for. Even after we publish books and articles on these crucial issues for concerned colleagues in more affluent cultures, we wonder: will these conditions ever change?3 Will the women that we treat ever be able to experience pregnancy and childbirth with the same joyful anticipation as their sisters in more prosperous societies? Can we ever look forward to a time when expectant mothers in our communities might confidently be assured that they will be treated with dignity and respect — or to a time when they might know that everything possible will be done to ensure their health and safety and that of their children? Can our patients and clients — our mothers, sisters, and daughters — ever dream such dreams?