Fighting against HIV & AIDS in Nigeria by Strengthening Men's Roles in Maternal and Child Health
On October 20, 2009, 700 men attended a town hall meeting in the Argungu emirate in Kebbi state, hosted by MSH and the United States Agency for International Development, to discuss the vital role of men in maternal and child health in order to promote HIV & AIDS prevention, care, and treatment services in northwestern Nigeria. The Emir of Argungu, representatives of the government of Kebbi state, and Barry Smith, MSH’s country director for Nigeria, were present to support the launch of this program which addressed the lack of female autonomy and the damaging effect this has on the health of a family. In the meeting the men of the Argungu emirate were asked to join the women in taking responsibility for the health of women and children in their community.
Despite the provision of free HIV & AIDS testing, counseling, and treatment in Kebbi state, too few women and children are being tested and treated. Studies have shown that if men are educated about HIV & AIDS and are encouraged to become involved in women and children’s health, there is a dramatic improvement in the success of treatment and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV & AIDS.
MSH launched the campaign focused on the men of Argungu to address the high numbers of female patients who do not come forward for—or opt out of—antenatal care, HIV & AIDS testing and treatment, and giving birth at a hospital. The rate of use of such services by women is directly related to the support demonstrated by men. In male-dominated societies, women are often unable to make autonomous decisions about their own and children’s health care. Women usually have to seek their husbands’ permission if they want to participate in even free health care programs. The men who attended the town meeting accepted that responsibility for the health of their community starts at home, and pledged to support their women and children in the use of heath services.
The Gulma Village Head took up the challenge of the day’s events saying: “I am so happy to hear that the American government is supporting a rural community like Argungu. Now I will urge all women to seek health care and ensure no life is lost which can be prevented.”
The Emir of Argungu endorsed this important message and spoke about the damaging effects of the stigma of HIV & AIDS. He encouraged members of his community who are living with HIV & AIDS to join his skills development network for employment.
There was a lively discussion about the issues surrounding HIV & AIDS and maternal and child health. One man who participated commented: “My joy is learning that HIV is not so deadly after all and help is available here in Kebbi, even to the extent of the dramatically increased possibility of a positive mother giving birth to a negative child.”
Another participant’s summary of the day illustrated the positive outcome: “I have learned today that it is not only the duty of government to provide health care, I can also do my own part by accepting the services, encouraging others, and volunteering to help my community members demand available services.”
On October 20, these 700 men from the Argungu emirate became united and powerful advocates for child and maternal health and for reducing the stigma surrounding HIV & AIDS. The day will certainly have saved lives in Kebbi state.