Ainafe Gordon knew things would be different with her most recent pregnancy. For several years, volunteers in her community had been travelling from home to home, sharing important information for new and expecting mothers. This was the 30-year-old’s third pregnancy and while nothing had gone wrong with the first two, she knew things could have been better.
This time was already different because Ainafe and her husband had planned it. With simple and efficient access to birth control provided by local community-based distribution agents, she and her husband were able to plan to have their next baby when their family would be able to best care for her.
Spacing out the births of her children meant Ainafe was able to invest more time in her family’s farm and start a small business selling vegetables. She could nurse her baby longer because she didn’t get pregnant so quickly after giving birth. She and her husband were better able to support their family and meet their nutritional and health needs.
Once pregnant, Ainafe received a lot of support from her community. Village safe motherhood committees, care groups and male motivators were just some of the pieces in place to support expectant parents.
Ainafe was encouraged to get frequent antenatal checkups with trained staff at health facilities. Her husband, encouraged by male motivators, accompanied her to these visits, which was a real change from her previous pregnancies. At the checkups, Ainafe received vitamins and health monitoring. Lessons on nutrition, kitchen gardens and cooking demonstrations allowed the family to improve and diversify their diet.
When it was time to deliver her baby, Ainafe and her husband felt as prepared as they could be. Unexpectedly, the baby had to be delivered by C-section, but because the safe motherhood committee and village leadership had instituted penalties for people not delivering at health facilities, Ainafe was in a place that was able to offer her the medical help she required.
Since baby Shalom was born, Ainafe continues to be supported by the project. Attending frequent health clinics, Shalom receives recommended vaccinations and her growth is monitored. If a baby isn’t growing as it should, nutritional supplements are provided.
“I appreciate how this project has assisted me, but also so many in the community. Without it my family would not be in the position it is. Things are different now,” shared Ainafe when reflecting on how things in her village have changed for pregnant women and their babies.
Malawi—with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world—experienced 439 maternal deaths per 100,000 in 2015 (per UNICEF), as compared to eight maternal deaths per 100,000 in Canada.
In response, PWS&D began the second phase of a maternal, newborn and child health project in 2016. Implemented in both Malawi and Afghanistan, with generous support from the Government of Canada, almost 175,000 people will benefit by the time it concludes this year.
The project has worked to reduce maternal and child mortality through improving health services and encouraging their use, increasing the consumption of nutritious foods for mothers, newborns, pregnant women and children under five, and sharing necessary knowledge and information about maternal and child health practices.
The change created is significant and will be long-lasting. With the project coming to a close, sustainability is top of mind for community leaders and volunteers, as well as those who have benefited more directly.
Construction and improvement of labour and delivery wards will foster long-term change. Village systems and structures created to support pregnant and new mothers and their babies will be sustained by the collective will of those who have seen the change that is possible when everyone works with a common goal. More than anything, communities are inspired to continue the work beyond the project because they know it is making a difference.
On a recent monitoring visit, standing in a house crowded with community volunteers, village chief Elijah Elizeo expressed the sentiment best. “This project has done a lot to fill a gap. We’re singing a different song here now about maternal deaths. Even as the project ends, you’ll remain with us because what you did in this village will stay and continue. We realize that what we are doing is for the benefit of this community, future generations and the nation of Malawi.”
*This article was first printed in the Summer 2020 issue of Presbyterian Connection newspaper.