In Malawi, village safe motherhood committees work tirelessly to make sure pregnant women and their partners are informed of the support available to them before, during and after the birth of their child—and why it’s so important.

Mothers may not deliver their child at a health facility for a number of reasons. Perhaps the facility is too far away, and there are no proper roads to get there. Or, societal or family expectations prevent them from seeking support.

When something goes wrong during or after their pregnancy, some women approach traditional healers, who do not have the technical know-how to solve a medical problem.

Tragically, that was the case for one mother involved in a PWS&D-supported program, who passed away following the birth of her twins. After delivering through a C-Section at Mulanje Mission Hospital, she was monitored for eight days then sent home. Recognizing the importance of repeat checkups, she was told to report back to the hospital at the first sign of any trouble, and was given an appointment for follow-up a month later.

Three days after returning home, this 36-year-old mother of five began to have pain on the right side of her body, followed by a fever and swelling in her abdomen. She and her husband visited a traditional healer, who was unable to treat her medical problem and instead gave her a tattoo intended to provide good health.

Still gravely sick, her family eventually brought her to the hospital. Unfortunately, their worry quickly turned to grief as she was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Assisted by the Village Safe Motherhood Committee, in Bwanali village there have been no maternal deaths for over ten years.

Preventing Maternal Deaths

Devastating stories such as this prove the need for programs that increase health-seeking behaviours at professional health clinics. Village safe motherhood committees, an aspect of PWS&D’s maternal, newborn and child health programming, teach people in the Mulanje catchment area about the services available to them. They advise women to attend check-ups and deliver at a health facility, with fines levied by local community leaders if they do not follow through. Encouraging male participation, these committees also inform parents about the importance of vaccinating their children and providing them with proper nutrition.

The influence of village safe mother committees means many pregnant women have been saved from preventable deaths—an impact felt for generations, as more children can grow up with the loving presence of their mother. For example, in Bwanali village, the work of the committee has resulted in there being no maternal deaths for over a decade.

Reflecting on the difference they are making, this group of dedicated advocates shares that without their involvement, “there would be a lot of home deliveries and possible maternal deaths, women and children would not be receiving essential health services like vaccinations and antenatal care. The results would be disastrous.”

There is still work to be done. You can help mothers and their babies thrive by supporting the work of PWS&D.