While the level of uptake of antenatal services in Nigeria is low everywhere, indicators suggest that levels in the Christian-dominated South are higher than in the Muslim-dominated North. This study, published in the journal BioMed Research International, evaluated the effect of religious influences on the utilisation of general and HIV-related maternal health services among women in rural and peri-urban North-Central Nigeria. The study targeted participants that were HIV-positive, pregnant, or of reproductive age in the Federal Capital Territory and Nasarawa, and collected data via focus group discussions. Themes explored were the utilisation of facility-based services, gender preferences with regard to healthcare provider, and the acceptance of the Mentor Mother scheme, consisting of trained, HIV-positive counsellors as a Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) service. Thematic and content approaches were then applied to manual data analysis.
Of the 68 women were recruited for the study, 72% were Christian and 28% Muslim. The research identified no significant religious influences among barriers to maternal service uptake expressed by participants. Limitations were mainly being a long distance from a clinic, and socio-economic dependence on male partners, rather than religious restrictions. All participants stated a preference for facility-based services, while neither Muslim nor Christian women had provider gender preferences; competence and positive attitude were considered more important. All the women found Mentor Mothers highly acceptable as a PMTCT service. Given the findings, it is suggested that nterventions aimed at increasing antenatal care and PMTCT uptake should therefore concentrate on: targeting male partner buy-in and support; healthcare provider training to improve attitudes; and Mentor Mother program strengthening and impact assessment.