Abt Associates: Bold thinkers driving real-world impact
Male community leaders and fathers are taking on new responsibilities to improve safe motherhood in Zambia thanks in part to an Abt-led project.
An Abt Associates-led project in Zambia is improving the health of new and expectant mothers by engaging a group traditionally not involved in maternal health – men.
Like many expectant fathers in Zambia, Soliamu Gondwe was not aware that he had an important role to play in preparing for the arrival of his new baby.
“According to our custom and culture, men are rarely involved in preparations for the pregnant mothers to have a safe delivery,” Gondwe said. “Mainly, the preparations and all the care for any pregnancy and after a baby is born was left to the hands of women.”
Safe Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs) are volunteer organizations that promote the use of antenatal, delivery, and postnatal services to pregnant women and their families, among other goals. The Abt-led, USAID-funded Zambia Integrated Systems Strengthening Program (ZISSP) has trained more than 3,000 SMAG members in 17 target districts across Zambia – both women and men – including more than 500 in Lundazi District, where Gondwe lives.
A SMAG volunteer visited Gondwe and his wife and invited them to meetings about safe motherhood. They learned about the importance of antenatal care, safe delivery and postnatal care, and how to be prepared for the birth of their first child. The volunteer also provided guidance to Gondwe and his wife on family planning. “We are going to use family planning in order to space our children for them to grow a healthy life,” Gondwe said.
Communities are benefiting from the outreach received from the trained SMAGs. Families are taught how to recognize the danger signs during pregnancy and after delivery and what action to take. Also, their comprehensive approach of reaching couples and families, rather than only pregnant women, encourages men to take a more active role in the pregnancy of their loved one.
ZISSP is doing more to improve maternal health than working with SMAGs and expectant parents.
ZISSP engages traditional leaders as change agents to promote healthy behaviors in 27 target districts, with a focus on HIV and AIDS, malaria, family planning, maternal health, newborn and child health, and nutrition services.
For example, community leaders from the area surrounding Lukwizizi Community Rural Health Center – also in Lundazi District – have set an example of how a strong working relationship between traditional leaders and community health programs can promote positive change in health behaviors.
Chiyendeyende Adams Zimba, a senior community leader, or headman, who represents his village to the chief, also said that men in Zambia typically have not been concerned with safe motherhood. Traditional medicines were used to treat pregnancy-related complications, and the medicines sometimes led to stillbirth or maternal death. “Whenever things went wrong, the blame was always put on women,” Zimba said.
Zimba’s perception of men’s roles in preventing maternal death changed in 2013, when he and a group of traditional leaders were trained as champions for safe motherhood.
“Today the picture has changed drastically, to where it is now everyone’s responsibility to make sure that no woman should die when and after giving birth. I saw the need for male involvement not only as a community leader, but also as a father. As custodians of culture and tradition, our main role as community leaders is to talk about negative cultural and traditional beliefs and practices that may affect the [health] program,” Zimba said.
After seeing the results of his community outreach, Zimba said traditional leaders have a significant role to play in promoting safe motherhood.
View a slideshow of Abt's work in child and maternal health.
Abt Associates is a mission-driven, global leader in research, evaluation and program implementation in the fields of health, social and environmental policy, and international development. Known for its rigorous approach to solving complex challenges, Abt Associates is regularly ranked as one of the top 20 global research firms and one of the top 40 international development innovators. The company has multiple offices in the U.S. and program offices in more than 40 countries.