Men breaking traditions for better health in Mara Region

Monday September 24 2018

A health worker at Machochwe Health centre

A health worker at Machochwe Health centre attends to a couple during antenatal clinic visit PHOTOS | SYRIACUS BUGUZI 

By Syriacus Buguzi @TheCitizenTz

Serengeti. Men are striving to break the old traditions for better health in Mara Region. Not many, here, used to believe in accompanying their spouses to Ante-natal Clinics.

It was a feminine thing and men were meant to be doing other useful things.

But, a recent spectacle at Machochwe Health Centre, Serengeti District captured attention. Each man with his woman, sat on the benches of the facility, waiting for their turn to see the doctor.

It was on one of the days of the week, set for providing clinic services at the facility. Inside the facility, health workers were as busy as bees.

Tens of pregnant women who had turned up with their spouses, are, however, a common sight at Machochwe, thanks to initiatives of Community Health Workers (CHWs) who go out to neighborhoods to sensitise people on how to maintain their health and well-being.

The Medical Officer in-charge of the centre, Joseph Kiberenge, tells Your Health that things have changed in his village, where men used to believe that accompanying their spouses was a sign of weakness.

Mr Kiberenge says such traditions began changing when health stakeholders under the USAID Boresha Afya project introduced the idea of using CHWs to educate men and women on the importance of male involvement in antenatal care.

The government, through the USAID Boresha Afya project, which started in 2016 and implemented by Jhpiego is working to reduce maternal mortality in the Lake Zone, one of the most affected parts of the country.

As a result, Machochwe now serves a bigger number of the pregnant women who are accompanied by their husbands. This, according to authorities has partly contributed to increased uptake of maternal health services.

It has also helped the community to realise the importance of working together to stop maternal deaths in their areas, without necessarily waiting for interventions from health workers and the government.

“This is a new experience at the facility; we have to set a timetable indicating special days for provision of clinic services as a way of making them more efficient. It used not to be in the case in the past,” says Mr Kiberenge, a clinical officer. Mr Kiberenge says, “Before this project under USAID Boresha Afya started, the turnout of expectant mothers for clinic was low.”

He points to data showing that in 2016, the Machochwe Health Centre recorded zero attendance of women who are in their 12th week of pregnancy.

However, since last year, the numbers began swelling. Over 100 women in that gestation age, were seen attending Antenatal clinic visits at the facility.

By September, this year, he says, Health Center records show that about 160 women in their first trimester attended clinic.

“For us, we see the project as a catalyst for making women and their spouses attend clinic,” he says.

This has also reduced the number of home deliveries. The number women delivering at the facility rose from 275 in 2016 to 329 in 2017.

Health on the mobile phone

The CHWs provide health services to the communities through a mobile phone. They record information of pregnant women that they have interviewed.

Using the gadgets, the CHWs record the women’s voices when giving their personal details and history of their pregnancies.

Mr Kiberenge says, “The community health workers ensure that the mothers deliver at the centre…since this project started, we haven’t recorded any death of pregnant woman.”

Ms Anna Mokare is one of the CHWs in Machochwe Village. She says, “I am glad that now, the community members have accepted us as maternal health education providers and they listen to us.”

In the efforts to push women to attend clinic visits as required in health guidelines, the CHWs in the village proposed that a fine be introduced by the village leaders.

The village government bought the idea.

A Sh 3,000 fine was introduced, leading to more women attending with their spouses. The story of Machochwe epitomizes efforts undertaken in Mara .

Region to improve maternal health through educating women and men on the importance of ANC services.

In the past, cases of pregnant women delivering at home were common in the region as they gave birth through the help of traditional birth attendants.

Maternal health experts say this contributed to several deaths of mothers and children, especially due to maternal health complications.