Men must be actively engaged
Alliance Zambia’s project partners, Salvation Army through Chikankata Mission Hospital, CIDRZ, Bwafwano Community Care Association and SAfAIDS who gave presentations on what they had learned during the year long project all reiterated that unless men in the community are made aware and actively engaged on HIV, maternal and child health issues the success of increasing the numbers of women attending clinics was compromised.
“Men have traditionally been excluded on maternal and child health issues but they are the decision makers because they are the ones who have the money,” explained Gift Munkombwe from Chikankata Salvation Army Mission Hospital. “We needed to engage local leaders to get the men involved in the activities. If a man doesn’t understand then the woman can’t take up the healthcare on offer.”
Steps taken to involve men
Services have generally been geared towards women and their needs and men feel uncomfortable accompanying the women. The project partners used couples counselling, men-only community dialogues and training of traditional leaders to increase the male involvement in the issue.
Isaac Phiri from Bwfawano told participants that in one rural area the community leaders agreed to fine any man who doesn’t accompany his partner to the health centre in an effort to ensure that the couple takes equal responsibility to get the best care available for mother and child.
Working together for success
Permanent Secretary Professor Elywn Chomba of the Ministry of Community Development, Mother and Child Healthren opened the meeting. She highlighted the importance of an integrated approach to the issues and she was pleased to see that the project was tackling both HIV positive and HIV negative women. As a highly respected paediatrician she too recognised and highlighted the need to involve men.
She praised Alliance Zambia for implementing the project with their partners and said for there to be long-term success it would require government, private companies, national and community organisations working together.
“No woman should die when giving birth. It is the responsibility of us all to work as equal partners, to be responsible for the good health of the child.”
Other challenges faced
Many other issues emerged of the scale of the challenges that the community faces when dealing with HIV, maternal and newborn healthcare.
While project partners reported they’d seen an increase in the referrals to health centres many of those health centres simply don’t have the supplies needed to support the women adequately. A lack of beds, medical equipment and staff were all cited.
In addition, the sheer distances that women have to travel to reach a health facility often means they simply can’t get there in time to deliver the baby.
Increase government funding
While the messages have reached the communities where the partners are working and there is increased interest and uptake in services, Alliance Zambia is also developing advocacy activities and meeting policymakers and politicians to raise the issues and lobby for increased funding for HIV and maternal healthcare services.
The full evaluation report of the project which is being conducted in four African countries - South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia - will be available at the end of November.
Men have traditionally been excluded on maternal and child health issues but they are the decision makers