Ultrasound 'magic' draws Ugandan women to antenatal clinic

A radio advertising campaign promoting free prenatal ultrasound scans boosted the number of pregnant women who attended a modern medical clinic by 490%, according to a study published on April 12 in PLOS One.

In Uganda, about 6,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications, and up to one-third of pregnant women deliver their babies at home, noted a research team that included Dr. Michael Silverman of Lawson Health Research Institute and Western University, both in London, Ontario, Canada. Lawson's team hypothesized that offering pregnant women free ultrasound scans would entice them to come forward and attend an antenatal clinic.

"Who doesn't want to see their unborn baby?" Lawson said in a prepared statement released by the institute. "It's like magic."

The researchers tried several methods of getting the word out about the clinic and found that radio advertising worked best. Relying on word of mouth was ineffective, as many women didn't think it was true that they could "see" their unborn baby, according to lead author Dr. William Cherniak, executive director at Bridge to Health, a Toronto group that organizes medical and dental clinics for underserved areas around the world.

Meanwhile, radios are common in Ugandan households. After the radio campaign started, nearly six times the number of women attended the antenatal care clinics; the increase was particularly large among women who had previously gone to traditional healers. Among these women, attendance at the clinics grew nearly ninefold after the free ultrasound scans were advertised on the radio.

The researchers hope the study will demonstrate to Ugandan women that modern healthcare is safe, friendly, and trustworthy.

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