The participatory women’s group approach which Women and Children First promotes has been tested through seven studies in four countries in Africa and Asia and has been shown to be successful in improving maternal and newborn care practices in the community and reducing maternal and newborn mortality in rural areas.
Mothers and babies die unnecessarily because they and their families don't recognise the risks or have access to simple, low-cost solutions.
Women and Children First has developed ways of working with groups of women that reach the whole community and have a dramatic effect on saving lives.
The women’s groups meet regularly to learn how to identify problems that arise during pregnancy, delivery and after the birth of a baby, discussing how best to deal with them. Facilitators are trained to involve everyone in the group, and the women learn, share information and decide together how to address their problems.
- have 25-30 female members
- do not exclude men
- meet on a regular basis
- are facilitated by trained, local women
- identify health problems that affect or concern the group
- work out low-cost, low-tech solutions to address these problems.
Delays that cause deaths
The risks facing mothers and newborns are social as well as medical, and the women's groups discuss how to avoid the three delays that can affect the outcome of pregnancy and childbirth. These are delays in:
- deciding to seek skilled medical care
- getting to skilled medical care
- obtaining appropriate care in a health facility.
Women's groups have developed many practical and effective solutions that address maternal and newborn health in their own localities and communities. These include:
- emergency funds
- video shows
- stretcher schemes
- bicycle ambulances
- picture cards to raise pregnant women’s awareness of how to look after themselves and their newborns and how to recognise a health emergency.
Women's groups save lives
The results of a meta-analysis (Prost 2013), including seven randomised controlled trials undertaken in India, Bangladesh, Malawi and Nepal, demonstrate that, where at least 30% of pregnant women took part in the groups, maternal deaths can be reduced by up to 49% and newborn deaths by a third.
The World Health Organisation has issued an official recommendation about the participatory women’s groups approach Woman and Children First promotes, particularly in rural settings where there is little access to health services.
As well as changing the life prospects for women and children in pregnancy, childbirth and early infancy, participatory women's groups can be adapted to share knowledge about children's health and family planning and to work with local authorities and committees to improve health services.
The Good Practice Guide is a manual provided to women’s groups facilitators to help them take the women’s groups through a participatory learning and action cycle.
- £80 runs a women’s group for a whole year;
- £250 buys two bicycle ambulances to get mothers and babies to a clinic in an emergency;
- £500 delivers a village health education campaign;
- £1,000 enables 200 women to attend a women’s group for a whole year;
- £2,000 trains three community health workers in maternal and newborn healthcare.