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Pregnancy is the responsibility of a man and a woman. In Africa, however, pregnancy and childbirth are generally viewed as women’s concerns, and men are often uninvolved. It is rare for African men to accompany their wives when they go for antenatal check-ups during pregnancy.
Health practitioners in Jinja district, Uganda have started a project known as “Love Letter,” which calls upon men to accompany their wives to antenatal clinics, and also encourages men to go for blood tests when their wives are pregnant. Pregnant mothers are given invitation letters during their first visit to antenatal clinics. These letters are addressed to their husbands and request them to come along with their wives during antenatal visits. This is a radio script about the “Love Letter” project, a new project which encourages men to be by the sides of their wives during the pregnancy period and at the time of giving birth. This script is based on and adapted from interviews with the director of the project, and with a woman who was one of the beneficiaries of the project.
ScriptMusic briefly, then fade
Good afternoon listeners, and thanks for tuning in to CBS FM. Today’s programme focuses on the “Love Letter” project, which is currently used in hospitals and health centres in the Jinja district of Uganda.
A “Love Letter” is a written piece of paper, signed by the District Health Officer and given to pregnant mothers who visit clinics before their child is born. These before-birth clinics are called antenatal clinics. The letters are addressed to the husbands of the women, and their purpose is to encourage the men to accompany their wives when they visit antenatal clinics.
I’m joined today by Sarah Byakiika, the Deputy District Health Officer for Jinja District who is also the director and one of the initiators of the Love Letter project. Sarah, please greet our listeners.
I greet all the listeners of this radio station, most especially the pregnant mothers and the caring fathers.
Also with me in the studio is one of the beneficiaries of the Love Letter project, Mrs. Kadowe Irene, a resident of Mafubira sub-county in Jinja district. Irene, please greet our listeners.
I greet all the listeners, and send regards to my husband Kadowe Eliphaz, who is working with the Ugandan Army, and to my two kids.
I will start with Sarah. What is this Love Letter project?
This is a letter which we write to husbands in the local language, requesting them to escort their wives when they visit antenatal clinics. Each antenatal clinic in Jinja District has copies of this letter, which contains the signature of the District Health Officer. He is the one who requests the men to escort their wives, as his words carry respect in the communities.
Sarah, why were you interested in starting this Love Letter project?
In Uganda and in Africa in general, men are not very involved with their wives during their pregnancy. Yet during pregnancy, women need special care to prevent complications and to ensure that any problem is treated right away. Women need support from their male partners to make advance preparations for childbirth, including making decisions about where they will give birth and setting aside funds. When men accompany their wives to antenatal clinics, nurses have time to talk to them about the health of their wives and the preparations that the couple should make to ensure that both mother and baby will be healthy. We can also counsel the couple about HIV and AIDS, and, if they want to know their status, they can get a blood test. If either or both the man or woman is infected, we look for ways to protect the foetus. We would also provide counselling and advice to give them hope about their future and ensure that they can access anti retroviral drugs if they need them.
How is the project doing?
In the past, few men came to our antenatal clinics. Some were afraid to come because they were afraid of being tested for HIV and did not want to know their status, especially in front of their wives. Another reason why a man might not come is that he does not want to make public his relationship with the woman by attending an antenatal clinic with her. In our clinic, we try to be sensitive to such concerns. When women come with their husbands or male partners, we encourage them, and we also try to take care of them first.
Irene, you are one of the beneficiaries of the Love Letter project. Please tell us how this letter worked for you.
I am a mother of three kids. During my first two pregnancies, my husband did not accompany me to the antenatal clinic, but only to hospital at the time of birth. He really did not give me much support. Even when I told him the advice I received from the nurse at the antenatal clinic about nutrition and rest during pregnancy and about saving money for delivery, he did not take the issues very seriously. During my second pregnancy, I developed anaemia or weak blood because I could not follow the nurse’s advice on a nutritious diet. When I delivered, I bled severely, and I had to be rushed to hospital for a transfusion to save my life.
Last year when I conceived, I was worried that I would have the same problems again. When I was three months pregnant, I decided to visit Mpumudde Health Centre for a routine check up. This time, the nurse gave me the letter to take to my husband, explaining the importance of antenatal care and requesting him to come with me for my next check-up.
When I gave my husband the letter, he looked puzzled but agreed to accompany me. When it was time for the second antenatal visit, we went together.
What did you experience during this visit?
We were treated very well. We were seen first and didn’t have to spend a long time in the line. The nurse advised us about nutrition during pregnancy, and she really helped my husband understand why I needed to have good food to eat and iron tablets to reduce the risk of getting anaemia again. She also helped him understand that we should set aside money each month so that we were ready for any problem. Finally, she counselled us about AIDS, which has been something we could never discuss openly together. She convinced him that it was very good for us to both be tested. I thank my husband because he really listened to her advice and put in practice all that he learned from the clinic. He made certain that we had nutritious food, and, together, we set aside money so that I could deliver at the clinic. When I gave birth to a baby girl, I had no problems. It was really memorable because my husband was by my side throughout all the stages of pregnancy.
Do you have any message to men before we conclude the programme?
I call upon men to be by the side of their wives during the time of pregnancy and childbirth. A man escorting a wife to the antenatal clinic is a sign of love, and it gives courage to the pregnant mother. I was so happy to have my husband’s support. I think it helped me to stay healthy and avoid problems.
Sarah, as we wind up, what message do you have for us?
Men have always had this idea that pregnancy issues are women’s issues, but every pregnancy involves two people. I would like to encourage men to go with their wives to antenatal clinics so that they can get the advice and counselling that pregnant mothers receive. This will help them reduce their fears about blood tests, and it will help them know how to better care for their wife, their unborn baby, and their family.
Lastly, I call upon doctors and nurses in other districts to adopt this Love Letter project, because men have such an important role to play when their wife is pregnant. Men can help make motherhood safer.
I thank Sarah and Irene for accepting our invitation to be with us today. Men out there, stand by the side of your wives! Thanks for listening in, and stay tuned.
Music briefly, then fade
Contributed by: Tamale Konde Julius. CBS FM Radio, a Farm Radio International broadcasting partner.
Reviewed by: Ellen Brazier, Anglophone Africa Program Director, Family Care International.
This script is based on and adapted from interviews conducted by Tamale Konde Julius on July 17, 2008.