A study by researchers at Makerere University says the government of Uganda needs to invest more in education for all, with special attention to the girl child as a long-term strategy to improve the level of utilization of the continuum of maternal care for improved maternal health.
Titled “Continuum of care for maternal health in Uganda: A national cross-sectional study” and published in the PLOS ONE journal, the study concluded that an educated woman can make better choices regarding one’s health and is more likely to have finances to pay for health care, so they do not have to rely on their husbands to seek care.
According to the study findings, women who had attained at least a secondary level of education were more likely to complete the continuum of maternal care compared to those that had only a primary level of education.
“This finding is consistent with reports from previous studies, a higher level of education has been associated with increased likelihood of utilization of reproductive, maternal, and neonatal child health services,” it further reveals.
This study further showed that e ongoing health education and empowerment of women by promoting girl child education may help dispel some of the cultural beliefs and myths associated with late initiation of antenatal care.
Continuum of maternal care was considered when a woman had at least four antenatal care (ANC) visits, had been delivered in a health facility, and had at least one postnatal check-up within six weeks.
This survey which used weighted data from the Uganda Demographic and Health Survey of 2016, that included over 10,152 women aged 15 to 49 years, who had had a live birth within five years preceding the survey, showed that having a secondary level of education and tertiary level of education had embraced maternal health, compared to no formal education.
“Exposure to mass media (radio and newspapers or magazines) was positively associated with completion of the continuum of maternal care. Media is a very powerful tool because of its potential to reach many people in a very short time and at a relatively lower cost” noted the survey.
This finding is consistent with results from previous studies conducted in different settings. Information about the availability of services and their benefits to the public can be quickly disseminated to bridge knowledge gaps and dispel any myths and misconceptions that may exist.
According to this study, the government should leverage the advantages of mass media, to positively influence the health-seeking behavior of Ugandan women. This will improve the level of utilization of the continuum of maternal care for better MCH in the country.
The study which covered central, Northern, Western, and Eastern Uganda, further revealed that exposure to newspapers and magazines has promoted maternal health among women.
“We found a low level of utilization of complete continuum of maternal care. Initiation of ANC in the first trimester, being residents in the central and western regions, level of education, and exposure to mass media were associated with completion of the continuum of maternal care,” the study authors noted.
All these factors are known to promote the utilization of reproductive, maternal, and neonatal child health services because they minimize delays in accessing care.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with about 85% below the age of 15 years. Approximately, 22% (7.3 million) of the population are women of reproductive age 15–49 years, with a high total fertility rate of 5.1 births per woman.
In Uganda, about 11percent of women completed the continuum of maternal care, with many discontinuities at different stages, the largest drop occurred between the stages of childbirth and utilization of PNC services.
The study recommends that the Ministry of Health should leverage the enormous potential of mass media to promote the utilization of maternal care services. In addition, promoting early initiation of ANC and the integration of MCH services may go a long way in improving the continuum of care.
The current universal access education programs need to be supported as a long-term strategy toward improved MCH. Further studies are needed to understand why most women are unable to return their newborns for PNC after discharge from the places of childbirth.
By Judith Grace Amoit.