The World

Ugandan Love Letters Pull Men to Fetal Heartbeats

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.

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Moses Funga and Claire Nakitende at prenatal check

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 from families, communities and especially their partners.

Small Success Story

While similar outreach efforts aimed at men have run aground, health workers call the letter a modest but significant success.

They say it's boosted the number of men who accompany their wives or girlfriends to clinics to 7 percent from 2 percent.

"Now we have men going home to the village saying that they listened to the heartbeat of their unborn baby!" said David Kitimbo, local district health director.

For more information:

U.N. Millennium Project, Child and Maternal Health:
http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/reports/tf_health.htm

"Political Neglect Kills Mothers by the Millions":
http://womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3352/context/archive

"Maternal Health Donations Overflow Bush Blockade":
http://womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3378/context/archive

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'Love Letter' to Husbands

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