Although antenatal services are offered for free in public hospitals and health centers, in the past pregnant women often did not make use of them mainly due to ignorance and carelessness.
Pregnant women are advised to have at least four antenatal care (ANC) sessions. According to Dr Felix Sayinzoga, Maternal and Child Health officer at the ministry of health, they constitute an opportunity to detect obstetric complications such as pre-eclampsia, tetanus toxoid immunization and malaria, as well as sexual transmissible diseases such as HIV or syphilis.
ANC is also used to sensitize expectant mothers on programs like family planning or breastfeeding. Sayinzoga points out that all the basic ANC services are available at the health center level.
Statistics from Minisante indicate that pregnant women who have had at least one ANC session increased from 94% in 2005 to 98% in 2010, while those who went the recommended four times rose from 13% to 35% in the same period.
Sayinzoga attributes this positive move to several factors. “Many health facilities have been built, local authorities have stepped up mobilization and community health workers do door-to-door sensitization,” he says, adding that the focus is now shifting to ensure all pregnant women get four ANC sessions.
Frodouard Ntibanyendera, a community health worker at Ramba health centre in Ngororero, says he goes the extra mile to make sure that any pregnant woman in his village is respecting the ANC instructions. “Sometimes, I even request them to show me evidence of their visits to make sure they aren’t lying.”
As the statistics show, women are indeed more and more aware of the importance of ANC. “This is my fifth pregnancy; I used to have ANC at least twice the previous times, but now I am here for my third session. I realized that it is advantageous to have all of them as it is recommended”, says Uwimana, a woman waiting for ANC at Gitega health center in Kigali.
“Maybe it is because it is the first time I am pregnant, but I do not see any reason to skip ANC.”
Uwingabire, a pregnant woman from Ngororero, says she has passed all four sessions and that during the last one, it was determined that she will deliver this month.
“I cannot miss any session. It is free and you feel somehow assured that you are not having complications,” she explains. “Maybe it is because it is the first time I am pregnant, but I do not see any reason to skip ANC.”