Maternal, reproductive and infant health is inaccessible to many in the world’s most impoverished countries, leaving mothers and their children without the care they need to live healthy and fruitful lives. This is no different in Niger, which ranks last on the Human Development Index (HDI)—one out of every 187 women in Niger dies as a result of childhood complications, and only one in four infants are breastfed during the first six months of their life. The majority of these women and children do not have access to the health facilities that would provide them with vital, potentially life-saving care. While child deaths have decreased significantly in recent years–from 326 children under five dying for every 1,000 born in 1990 to only 75 for every 1,000 in 2017—more work must occur to ensure that every woman and child in Niger has access to the health care they need. Luckily, husband schools in Niger have emerged to improve women’s access to maternal health care.
In addition to ranking last in development on the HDI, the report also listed Niger last in issues surrounding gender equality, meaning that it is men, not women, who primarily make decisions about pregnancy and childbirth, including how many children a woman has and whether or not she visits a health care center during pregnancy. Education and literary rates in the nation are low, and many of these men make these choices for their wives lacking essential prior knowledge about the importance of maternal and reproductive health.
Husband Schools in Niger
However, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA), an international organization that focuses on maternal and reproductive health, has dedicated itself to changing that. Since 2004, it has started over 137 husband schools in Niger to educate and better equip these Nigerien men to make decisions about their wives’ health care access.
These schools lack official lessons and schoolwork; rather, they are safe and honest spaces for men to learn about maternal and reproductive health and discuss possible solutions to health care access issues. The men who attend these classes help each other understand the importance of access to medical treatments for the women in their lives, and together they brainstorm ways to encourage pregnant and breastfeeding women to attend an Integrated Health Center in the area. These men, all of whom are married, also bring this information back to their wives, encouraging not only knowledge about their own maternal health for the women in these relationships but also better communication between the couple. These husband schools in Niger have been incredibly successfulーthe use of maternal health resources has tripled in areas where these schools operate, and rates of prenatal doctor’s visits and safe births have increased since the schools’ founding in 2004. This program initially emerged in the Zinder region of Niger alone, but the program has since spread across the entire nation.
Husband schools in Niger are greatly improving health care access to childbearing women by providing their husbands with essential, life-saving education about maternal and reproductive health. However, more work must still occur to ensure that every woman in this country, as well as their children, is able to receive the health care—and the education about this health care—they need.
– Daryn Lenahan