For Thomas Joseph, all it took was a radio program about family planning. The simple message of the program spoke directly to Joseph, who is married and lives in Soroti, Uganda with his wife and two children, and he embraced a modern method of contraception.
“[By limiting the size of my family], I can now afford a good life for my wife and children,” Joseph explains.
With pride, he adds: “As you can see, my wife looks healthy and grows more pretty every day.”
Anyai Grace, Joseph’s wife is grateful to her husband for making family planning possible. “My husband supports me with transport to the health center to access the family planning services,” she says. “I feel happy for this support.”
While the road to family planning was smooth for Thomas Joseph and Anyai Grace, they are not typical among Ugandan couples.
Indeed, family planning services are not widely used in Uganda, where the population is growing at a rate of 3.2% per year, making it the third fastest growing population in the world, the total fertility rate stands at 6.7 children per woman and 41% of women have an unmet need for family planning.
Many Ugandans do not trust family planning methods as they believe the methods have inherent risks rendering them dangerous, nor do they discuss contraception options with each other.
Nevertheless, research has shown that addressing unmet need for family planning helps couples limit family size and improves the broader social, economic and development measures of a country.
Enter: Nurse Mildred.
Friendly Nurse Mildred, a smiling woman clad in white nurse’s dress and cap, is the icon for a new communication campaign addressing the unmet need for family planning methods. The campaign is designed and implemented by the USAID-funded, JHU∙CCP-led Health Communication Partnership (HCP) in Uganda in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Planning Revitalization Working Group.
Through a weekly radio drama series, talk shows, radio spots and billboards, Nurse Mildred examines myths and misconceptions about modern family planning methods, encourages couples to discuss birth spacing and limiting family size and explains the link between family size and poverty.
Recognizing that family planning uptake depends in part on the communication skills and manners of service providers, the campaign has also prepared materials and tools for health care providers and community health workers, and has trained the counsellors and Makerere University students who staff the National Health Hotline to counsel callers about family planning.
HCP has also focused the spotlight on family planning and the resulting impact on population outward. To date, 260 faith-based leaders and 160 media journalists have attended orientations on these related issues with the hopes of attracting national attention.
If Nurse Mildred and HCP have their way, couples like Thomas Joseph and Anyai Grace will soon be the norm in Uganda.