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Malawi, August 2013: Mzambazi males shine by defying odds

© UNICEF Malawi/2013/Malamula
Through Male Championship, men are encouraged to entice fellow men to understand the importance of taking an interest in the health status of their wives. Men are encouraged to escort their wives to health facilities to receive needed medical assistance.

by Felix Malamula

Mzimba, Malawi, August 2013 They all jumped in happiness, danced, sang and above all lifted high the trophy they had just received. Drums and songs of triumph reverberated giving evidence that this was no ordinary ceremony. It was a ceremony to honour champions.

Yet this was not at a football pitch, neither was it at a netball court. It was at Mzambazi Health Centre in Mzimba, a district located about 100 kilometres from Mzuzu City - the Northern Malawi's administrative capital, where district health officials were in the area to award the health facility for being a leader in Male Championship Programme.

Through Male Championship, men are encouraged to entice fellow men to understand the importance of taking an interest in the health status of their wives. Men are encouraged to escort their wives to health facilities to receive needed medical assistance.

"We noted that men are very reluctant to accompany their wives to hospitals for antenatal clinics, HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) and encouraging their wives to deliver at a health centre and decided to come up with this initiative," explained Dr Alinafe Mbewe, Mzimba South District Health Officer.

Driven by the belief that a thief is better placed to catch a fellow thief, Male Championship Programme believes in using men to reach out to fellow men. Through Male Championship initiative, Mzambazi has managed to get over 40 men who go house by house enlightening fellow men on the advantages that go with visiting a health centre as a couple.

Initially, the initiative could not produce the needed results. It received a lot of resistance as men in the predominantly Ngoni area could not imagine how a man could be part of a gathering of pregnant women at an antenatal clinic.

"It's not easy to convince men in this area to change their age-old beliefs. As expected we faced a lot of resistance but eventually we started winning more men," said Sister Florence Msowoya, Sister-In-Charge at Mzambazi Health Centre, a facility owned by the Mzuzu Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

Through the work of the Male Champions, Mzambazi receives a population of between 30 and 40 men everyday who escort their wives to the centre. "It is no longer strange to see men accompanying their wives to this centre. We are now used," explained Msowoya.

As an incentive, women with their husbands, especially pregnant ones, get medical assistance first before those who come by themselves. The trick has worked as women who go alone to the health centre return home later than if they were with their husbands. They explain to their husbands of the preferential treatment their colleagues are accorded when they go as couples.

Msowoya says apart from this, traditional leaders have played a major part in ensuring that men take the leading role in ensuring good health of their wives by taking them to hospitals.

Some traditional leaders introduced fines to men who refuse to take their wives to hospitals. A woman who decides to deliver at a traditional birth attendant is fined K3000 which is about US$10. Those who give birth on the way to the hospital pay K1500 while a K1000 fine awaits those who give birth immediately on arrival at the health centre.

"The idea is to ensure women deliver at a health centre by encouraging them to come and wait for their time at the hospital rather than waiting at home until they are due for delivery," said Sister Msowoya.

Statistics from the 2010 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey show that almost three-quarters (73%) of Malawian births occur in health facilities, primarily in public sector facilities while home births are twice as common in rural areas (26%) as in urban areas (13%) with maternal mortality ratio at 675 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Mzimba launched the Male Championship Programme in October 2012 with funding from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). For Mzimba South, 22 health centres out of 31, in six Traditional Authorities have been reached with the Male Championship Programme.

Nine months later, Mzambazi is able to count the fruits of Male Championship. In 2012, for instance, Mzimba South recorded 25 maternal deaths before the introduction of the programme. This year, the area has recorded less than ten deaths partly due to reduction in delayed reporting of cases.

In a bid to encourage health centres not only to adopt Male Championship Programme but also intensify it to get more results, Mzimba South  District Health Office decided to introduce a trophy that will be competed for by the 31 health centres. A winning health centre will be receiving the trophy procured by UNICEF.

Every quarter of the year will have a champion. Mzambazi Health Centre's win was for the April to June period. The health facility will retain the trophy if it does well or surrender it to another health centre depending on its performance and that of other health centres in the next quarter.

"The idea is to encourage all health centres to put more effort in this programme because we believe Male Championship is one of the best initiatives in ensuring that we men have special interest in the health status of our wives and children," said Kelvin Nindi, UNICEF's Health Officer Responsible for Reproductive Health, HIV and Aids. 

The Male Championship Programme is also running in Mzimba North District Health Office and other districts in the northern region. Mtwalo Health Centre won the Mzimba North Male Championship Trophy for the same period.



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