Husband and wife Francis and Suzanne lead a Parent Support Group in Uganda, where couples can join together and learn about maternal and child health. Photo by Nick Ralph, World Vision
In preparation for the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals that will replace them, this year’s International Women’s Day theme will be “Make it Happen”. And it’s no wonder as a number of the MDGs impacting on women have not been reached in many countries, in particular MDG 4 – reduce child mortality and MDG 5 – improve maternal health. Over the last few years, the global community have recognised that we are not going to meet the goals and special effort is needed to make it happen.
As the Senior Health Advisor, I am accountable for coordinating and advising on health activity across World Vision Australia; providing guidance on strategic, evidence-based, up-to-date priorities and approaches in health programming, policy and advocacy.
As six million children under five are still dying each year, our efforts are focused on these children and their mothers. Good health in early childhood, especially in the first 1,000 days from conception to their second birthday, is the foundation of a child’s well-being. World Vision has been contributing to improving maternal and child health with projects like the East Africa Maternal Newborn Child Health project funded by DFAT in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. This project is strengthening health systems to deliver quality health services at the facility level and in the community by working with community health volunteers.
However, just supplying services is not enough. We know that many decisions regarding health are made at the household. And it is often men who are the decision makers, yet they are can be left out of the work we do around health of mothers, newborns and children. In Uganda, World Vision has supported the formation of Parent Support Groups (PSG) as an approach to involve men in the care of their wives and children – and there have been some very positive results.
These groups are made up of couples rather than just women (which is often the case), to gain knowledge and to work together to find their own solutions for change. They meet each month and discuss subjects like rest for pregnant women, good nutrition and on-going use of resources in the house.
World Vision and Makere University undertook a study to explore the effect of PSGs on the uptake of various health services, comparing an area where no PSGs were operating. The study showed that PSG communities had more ante-natal care visits (PSG 76%: Non-PSG 63%), monitored their child’s growth (PSG 66%: Non-PSG 43%) and immunised their children more (PSG 90%: Non-PSG 82%), than the communities that did not have PSGs.
The community has also seen men more involved in health after participating in the PSGs. One PSG member, John, said that being in the group encouraged him to get involved with family planning and helped him to understand the importance of breastfeeding.
Another member, Alfred, said the group taught him about the importance of looking after his wife during pregnancy. “I used to think pregnancy was a normal occurrence in women and it was ok for them to dig, fetch water and do all the household chores. Now I know how important it is for my wife to get enough rest and eat a balanced diet that I am happy to provide.”
“Ever since my husband and I joined the Group, the way we handle our home matters has changed. My husband is more involved in raising our three children and he lets me make some decisions like what we shall eat and how much money can be used for the children’s well-being. He was very supportive when I was pregnant with our last son,” says Akello, a PSG member.
PSGs have demonstrated an ability to change long held behaviour and to improve relationships within families. Couples have utilised information and skills and are now able to share decision making for positive outcomes for their family and their health. This is good for all communities – women, men and children.