Uganda: Involving Men in PMTCT Programs
One of the greatest challenges facing programs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) is the lack of participation of male partners.
It often takes more persuasion and creative outreach to involve men in HIV counseling and testing, as well as PMTCT services.
Traditionally, sexual and reproductive health services like PMTCT have focused mostly on women. Yet many observers have emphasized that the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of men often play a critical role in determining the reproductive health of women.
And there is strong evidence that excluding men from reproductive health increases the vulnerability of women to HIV, and compromises the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies and treatment.
For the Foundation, addressing the issue of male involvement can contribute to improved uptake of PMTCT and other reproductive health services for women, as well as improving the health of men.
The Foundation is taking an innovative approach to achieve both of these goals through its STAR-SW program in Southwestern Uganda, funded by USAID.
During recent health outreach activities at Kisoro hospital and Rubuguri Health Center IV, the turn-out for men was quite impressive.
The Foundation used outdoor entertainment and health shows conducted for rural audiences at the community level to support HIV prevention campaigns.
The activities included stage entertainment that involved the audience – music, dance, drama competitions, quizzes on health topics, small group interactions – to target the STAR-SW health intervention areas, including:
- TB/HIV prevention and care and treatment
- HIV Counseling and Testing (HCT)
- Safe Male Circumcision (SMC)
- Although most men were mainly interested in circumcision, the Foundation’s STAR-SW team used this opportunity to give health talks on different topics including HIV, TB, and PMTCT.
In the end, the results were encouraging. More men at the events were counseled and tested for HIV, screened for TB, and given general HIV prevention messages compared to women. For instance, at Kisoro hospital, 146 men were reached with HIV prevention messages compared to 103 women, while the figure at Rubuguri HC IV was 201 men versus 146 women.
At Rubuguri HC IV, one man and his one-year-old baby stood out from the crowd.
Philip Opio, clad in full military uniform, had come to the health center to access HIV information and services.
“I am happy because the health center is close by, and I access services easily,” Philip said.
“I have tested for HIV several times with my wife. I always support her. Even when she was pregnant, I tried to escort her for her antenatal visits whenever I could,” he added.
Simple strategies to make facilities more “male friendly” – such as extended evening hours and special weekend hours for male testing – can also make a big difference.
At Kisoro Hospital, Eridad Kabuti took his wife and three daughters for voluntary counseling and testing (VCT).
“We heard about this event on the radio, and decided to all come and test for HIV,” said Eridad.
Throughout the year, the Foundation’s STAR-SW project will continue to deliberately target outreach to men in order to increase male involvement in reproductive health.
When it comes to keeping children and parents healthy and HIV-free, PMTCT is a family affair.
Sanyu Nkiinzi Kagwa is the Foundation’s Communications & Outreach Officer, based in Uganda.