By Rachel Scheier
Sunday, December 16, 2007
When a pregnant woman arrives alone at a clinic in eastern Uganda, she returns home with a "love letter" to her husband or boyfriend inviting him to join her. It's designed to enlist more men in the African battle on AIDS and maternal mortality.
JINJA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--One recent morning, in the maternity ward of Mpumudde Health Center No. 4, a dozen women waited on a harried midwife in a long white uniform. Three were pregnant, a handful needed contraceptives and one exhausted mother who had delivered minutes earlier sipped a Coke in one of the iron-framed twin dormitory beds.
There was also one man. Moses Funga, a shopkeeper who sells "general goods" out of a wooden shack in a nearby village, had for the first time accompanied his six months' pregnant wife, Claire Nakitende, for a routine prenatal check. What finally inspired him to take the two-kilometer boda boda ride to the clinic, he said, was a simple note he received recently.
His wife presented the short typed form letter, signed by the local district health director, after a visit to the clinic; it contained some basic information and a polite request to come to a clinic in person to discuss matters such as HIV testing, what to expect during the delivery and how to care for a pregnant woman.
Waiting nervously for an HIV test on a bench at the Mpumudde clinic, Funga said he'd been meaning to come to the clinic with his wife, but he was always too busy.
"But once you see a letter like this, you get the courage to come," he said. "It will help me to know what is required of her."
The "love letter" to fathers, as health workers here dub it, is part of a yearlong effort to involve men in reproductive care. Health workers say that for childbirth to become safer for mothers and babies, women must have support f