In Malawi, as in many other societies, women have historically been responsible for housework, food gathering and preparations, and childcare. Care in pregnancy and the birth of a baby has been solely a female event. But times are changing. Malawian men are increasingly becoming involved in maternal and child health as well as household chores such as growing, buying and preparing food.
Lifeline Malawi encourages these changes, particularly in the area of maternal and child health. We invite fathers to attend antenatal clinics along with the mother of their child. During these visits, the couple receive vital care, important information about nutrition and care for the expectant mother, and for the unborn child, that will help them to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery. Both mother and father are also screened during the clinics for such diseases as HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections. Studies have shown improvement in maternal and child health as an outcome of male involvement. We are thankful that the traditional leaders, such as local chiefs, have aided us in this initiative by encouraging the fathers to attend antenatal clinics. We pray that the co-operating chiefs will continue to be influential in their villages to direct behavioral change in the traditional roles that men and women play.
This Lifeline Malawi initiative is bearing fruit. When we began, just over a year ago, only 5% of fathers attended. Now we are seeing about an 80% attendance. Ideally, we would like to have the fathers attend all four visits throughout the pregnancy. With even one visit, the fathers are screened for diseases and given information to sensitize them to the fact that family is about 'working together', about gender equality, and are shown how they can play their part.
The young couple in the photo are teens. We want these young people to attend our clinic without any stigma. They are welcomed with love and compassion and they are especially counselled to meet the needs of a teenage marriage.