Courageous fathers contribute towards safer motherhood

Date: June 21, 2010
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Charles Banda, 36, a father of three, is holding his wife’s hand as she is about to give birth to their fourth child. Banda is scared. This is the first time he is accompanying his wife in the maternity ward to assist her in childbirth. Despite his fear, he is positioned next to the delivery bed in one of the ten private rooms in the new maternity wing at Bwaila District Hospital in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.

“It is positive that fathers are encouraged to play a role and now able to comfort and assist our wives by the delivery bed,” shares Charles Banda. He continues with his last experience at this hospital when his wife gave birth to their third born in the only labour room holding 12 beds. “I found a sign at the old maternity ward saying, “no men allowed,” he recalls. This time he had heard on the local radio that men were encouraged to accompany their wives.

The new maternity ward at Bwaila District Hospital – considered a state of the art facility with its provision of private room for the expectant mothers and their relatives. It is the only one of its kind iin Africa funded by the Rose Project from Ireland and a well-wisher from Norway. Dr. Tarek Meguid reports, “Since the official opening on October 7, 2009 numerous courageous men have been coming into the maternity ward to support their pregnant wives now with the new possibility for privacy in the single rooms.”

“Maternal and child health is really a misconception; it should rather be parental and child health,” Meguid elaborates. The increasing examples of fathers’ involvement are promising with respect to bringing down the cases of deaths on the maternity wards in Malawi, and Banda is one of the positive examples.

“Parenthood is a partnership between the mother and father,” says Banda, who has agreed with his wife that this is their last child.

In the deep rural areas of Dedza District in Central Malawi, similar trends exist. In Chitowo composed of 40 villages the Chief sheds light on the best practice. “The involvement of men is one of the key indicators of success behind the reduced cases of maternal mortality in this area since 2002,” he explains.

Improved men’s involvement is one of the positive outcomes of the community mobilisation initiative in Chitowo funded by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Aiming to strengthen local structures for promoting community involvement and empowerment in maternal and reproductive health, men have, among other activities, been sensitised and made active in the fight against maternal deaths in the community.

This community-based project is rolled out in two other districts in Malawi namely Michiji and Nkhata Bay and it has proved itself as a best practice towards reducing the high maternal rate, which currently states that 807 women out of 100,.000 live births die in Malawi.

John Mbunah Banda, a father of five children and a member of the committee responsible for ensuring that women deliver in the health facility in Chitowo, is an example of the positive impact when men take active part in pregnancy and childbirth. “I knew it was important that my wife would make it to the health centre in time for her delivery and therefore I accompanied her on the walk,” he explains.

Involvement of Malawian fathers is not only contributing positively to safer childbirth, it is also critical to family planning. James Phiri, Health Officer at Chitowo Health Centre deliberates on his experience of the positive mindset transformation of men regarding family planning. “The men have come to understand and appreciate that too many children equals a heavy economic burden on his household and the negative consequences in terms of lack of money for education and proper food,” explains Phiri.

Victor Lamech, 27 entered proud and fearless the private room on the maternity ward at Bwaila to support and comfort his 19 year old wife in childbirth which he believes is simply part and parcel of his responsibility as husband and father.

“It is not only here by the delivery bed that men can play an active role,” he says. “I encouraged and ensured that my wife went to antenatal; I worked hard to provide nutritious food and shelter for her during pregnancy and I knew we should arrive here at the hospital in due time for her delivery” says the young man who only wants two children as that is all he can afford.”

According to the Human Development Report 2009, Malawian families are having an average of 6.3 children, which is a contributing driver to the fact that 65% live below the poverty line. In that light, appropriate family planning can, apart from preventing more unnecessary and preventable death of pregnant women in Malawi.

According to a UNFPA 2008 World Population Day State of World Population Commemoration Communiqué, family planning contributes towards reducing household poverty in the following ways.
– Fewer and better-spaced pregnancies result in lower maternal and child death rates and sickness levels. Also, women with smaller families often have more economic opportunities, and their earnings can help families escape poverty. Death or disability of mothers therefore blocks opportunities for families to escape poverty.
– High fertility can limit educational opportunities for children in poor families, especially girls. Low levels of educational attainment perpetuate family poverty,
– Parents of smaller families are in a better position to care for the health and nutrition of their children. Large, poor families are more subject to malnutrition,
– Smaller family size means that family income is shared among fewer people, so that each one has adequate resources.

In conclusion, the formula to safe motherhood is clear: Malawi needs more courageous men as Charles, John and Victor to take actively part in their wives’ pregnancy and childbirth – and in proper family planning. Men can make a difference in bringing down the high maternal mortality rate by making safer motherhood the business of both mothers and fathers in partnership.

Helene Christensen is a freelance journalist based in Malawi. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service which offers fresh news on every day news.



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