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Celebrating maternal health by enabling women to make their own health choices

Women with their babies at Women's Group meeting in Gelesomu village Malawi

This year marks not only the 30th commemoration of the International Day of Action for Women’s Health, but also the 15-year anniversary of Women and Children First.

Women and Children First launched its international programme in 2002 because we believe in an equitable world where mothers and newborns should not die from treatable or preventable conditions. Every woman has the right to a safe motherhood, and yet every two minutes a woman dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Our organisation tackles this problem through the establishment of community women’s groups. In these groups, women learn and share knowledge about pregnancy complications like pre-eclampsia, the importance of delivering with the help of a trained birth attendant and the family planning methods that are available to them.

Through the support of the group, as well as the sexual and reproductive health knowledge that women acquire, mothers are empowered to take better care of themselves and their babies. Women’s group members likewise help mobilise their whole communities towards better health outcomes. In the past 15 years, we have helped establish over 5,000 women’s groups, saving over 5,000 lives and reaching millions of rural women and their families. We’ve reached mothers like Secilia and Martha, who are raising healthy baby girls in rural Malawi.

Secilia Evance is a young mother of two in Kalonga village, Central Malawi. As a member of her community women’s group, she has learnt about the importance of antenatal care and of delivering at her village’s health facility. After a difficult first birth, Secilia joined her women’s group and felt more prepared for her second daughter’s birth: “My first baby was born at home, with a traditional village midwife. There were complications because I had an early labour and my baby was severely jaundiced. With my second pregnancy, because of the women’s group, I prepared for the birth early and was aware of warning signs of any complications. This time, my husband took me to the hospital and everything went well.”

Martha Champula is also a member of a local women’s group in Matumba village, Central Malawi. What Martha most appreciates about her women’s group is the support the members provide, and how free she feels to discuss her HIV status. “The two most important things I have learnt in the women’s group are how to keep my children safe, and to abide by my ARV treatment. At one time I stopped taking my medication but I got support from the group, and they encouraged me to start again.” Martha was diagnosed with HIV while pregnant with her first daughter, and the health centre provided her with anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) to prevent mother-to-child transmission. The ARVs not only allowed Martha to breastfeed both of her daughters, but has enabled her to feel healthy in her day-to-day life.

With the support of the Big Lottery Fund, Comic Relief, UK Aid and ViiV Healthcare Positive Action for Children Fund, Women and Children First has been working with its local partner, the MaiKhanda Trust, to improve maternal and newborn health in the districts of Ntchisi, NkhotaKota, and Salima in Malawi.

To find out how you could help a woman join her community women’s group and help her obtain the knowledge she needs to have a safe pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby, please click here.