On October 8th 2010, I attended the 10th annual Global Health USAID Mini University at the George Washington University along with hundreds of other health professionals and global health students.
I was particularly captivated by a session that discussed an initiative that mobilized and collaborated with Muslim scholars to increase men’s involvement in reproductive health and family planning at the community level. Men’s involvement in maternal and newborn health is critical to reduce deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth, especially in countries where women’s health care decisions, such as determining family size or timing of pregnancies, are heavily influenced by their husbands.
Heather Sanders, a program officer from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, spoke about an initiative in Pakistan – a country where one woman dies every hour from pregnancy or childbirth – called Ulama
which aimed to increase knowledge and motivate health care-seeking by men for pregnant women and children.
Ulama’s approach centered on developing messages for maternal, newborn and child health consistent with the teachings of Islam for Friday sermons, lectures and other religious gatherings in order to increase men’s awareness and involvement. The intervention revealed that resources based on Islamic teachings were most relied upon. Involving religious leaders at every stage of implementation for maternal and child health programs as well as training them in the methodology of behavior change communication was crucial in ensuring positive reception to the messages. These findings reinforce the importance of improving maternal and child health to prevent the death of 530,000 women each year from maternal causes as well as four million infants in the neonatal period.
At K4Health, we have been researching health information needs
related to family planning and reproductive health, access to and use of emerging technologies, as well as their potential to improve the quality and reach of programs. In Ethiopia, we are using this same approach involving community leaders to find out what the health information needs are in family planning and reproductive health so that we can deliver the right information at the right time.
Elsie Mwaniki, MPH