“Malaria! Not a Spell,” Says the Patrick Family of Mbindi

“Malaria! Not a Spell,” Says the Patrick Family of Mbindi

If you grow up in places like Kasungu district in rural Malawi, you learn that when your wife is pregnant, you should not have sex outside marriage---because you will lose the “expected gift” through miscarriage. Male promiscuity during a partner's pregnancy is a taboo that many believe will bring a curse on the family.

Patricia Patrick says that after she miscarried in November 2008 “People talked in the village, and people talked within the household. My relatives asked me suspicious questions.” They wondered whether sexual misbehavior by her husband caused the tragedy. She remembers her husband telling his side of the story to prove his innocence, but nobody believed him.

Adre Phiri (left), Health Education Volunteer for Mbindi Area speaks well of the Patricks: “They have eased my job!”

But in December 2009, with technical and financial support from the USAID-funded, Management Sciences for Health-led, BASICS project, the Red Cross Society trained Health Surveillance Assistants and community health education volunteers on facts about malaria. These frontline workers learned how to effectively conduct village-based campaigns through different communication channels. After the trainings, volunteers conducted meetings and household visits in villages with support from the Health Surveillance Assistants. One of the topics discussed during these meetings was the danger of malaria to pregnant women. Pregnant women were encouraged to take two doses of SP (an antimalarial drug) at the fourth and seventh month of pregnancy. The meetings taught that malaria in pregnancy may cause a miscarriage. Pregnant women were encouraged towards early attendance of the Antenatal Clinic (ANC) so they would a chance to access the two doses, as well as receive an insecticide treated net.

Learning about Malria gave the Patrick family comfort and helped them understand their experience with miscarriage. “I remembered that during the first pregnancy, my wife was frequently attacked by malaria. We never wanted history to repeat itself. So we made it a point that she visit the clinic as required and take the two doses of SP.”

“The Patrick family is a light in the dark,” says Village Headman Mbindi

In February 2010, after taking the steps to prevent any episodes of malaria during her pregnancy, Patricia Patrick delivered a baby boy named Peterson. Before February 2010, it was difficult to challenge such suspicions because the Mbindi villagers subscribed to their culture's traditional explanations of miscarriage.

Patricia is currently a role model for prevention of malaria in pregnancy in her village. Village Headman Mbindi describes the family as "a light for the village." Adre Phiri, the Health Education Volunteer for Mbindi, echoes the Headman and says the Patricks have eased his job: “At least people now can hear my messages through testimonies. I am extremely happy that my campaign is bearing fruit,” says Phiri.

Chancy Mauluka is Behavior Change Communications Officer/BASICS Malawi.