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Opiyo’s Story: Making the Most of Fatherhood
“When our spouses are in labor, we are also in labor. This is all because of Egemesha,” said Opiyo, a 35 year-old peer educator who works at the Ambira Sub-District Hopsital in Kenya’s Nyanza Province.
Opiyo has been married for 15 years and is the father of four children. Traditionally, the community Opiyo is from views children and pregnancy as a woman’s responsibility. After participating in Egemesha Wanawake Wetu (Swahili for “Support Our Women”), a male involvement program supported by ICAP in Kenya, Opiyo was so committed to supporting his wife that he made sure to be in the delivery room during the birth—an experience he describes as one he will never forget. “When I was there and saw our baby for the first time and was able to tell her, ‘It’s a baby boy,’ I was overjoyed,” he recalls.
The Egemesha Wanawake Wetu program aims to involve men in antenatal care during the pregnancy of their partners using an innovative approach. Through structured participatory educational sessions, men are provided with information regarding pregnancy and delivery from the woman’s perspective. Furthermore, the needs of the mother and baby after delivery are also discussed. The men are encouraged to talk about their role as a father, get HIV tested, share the results with their partner, and plan with their partner to deliver in a health facility where they will receive the benefits of a skilled delivery.
Although Kenya has made significant strides in improving access to antenatal care (ANC) for pregnant women, maternal mortality remains high and only 43 percent of patients deliver at health facilities, a factor that has been shown to impact maternal health and maternal mortality. Male partner participation in the care of pregnant women is crucial, especially considering their role as decision makers for their families. Opiyo first learned about the Egemesha program from his wife after her first ANC visit. She explained that through the program, Opiyo would be involved in supporting her throughout the pregnancy and birth. “She told me I would be next to her when she was giving birth. It would be the first time for me! I only wish I could have done this with the other children,” he shares.
The Egemesha program provided Opiyo with a chance to learn about how to take care of his family. “During the birth of our first children, my wife was not well taken care of. In fact, we had five children, but one died,” Opiyo explains, referring to one of their children who died in infancy. At that time, Opiyo did not understand the importance of taking his children for routine clinic visits until they were five years of age.
Opiyo and his wife have also come to appreciate the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, an issue of vital importance for the health of the baby. “Personally, I have also changed,” Opiyo reflects, “I was not a good father to my first kids. Now I am a good father and feel that I’m a family man.”
It is not only Opiyo’s family that has benefitted from the project. Opiyo and his fellow Egemesha graduates were so inspired by the program, they registered an association to take their experience beyond their homes to the wider community. He sums up his experience with the phrase, “Tell them we are very grateful. Tunaegemeshe wanawake wetu (we are supporting our women) in the right way.”
The success of Egemesha continues to be demonstrated through an increasing number of men who accompany their partners to antenatal visits and an increase in facility deliveries. HIV testing among participants has also gone up. Participants discovered that they were better prepared financially for the facility delivery, as well as for providing support after the birth. The community’s involvement in publicizing and recruiting more participants for the program has also proven to be critical and men in the program have shown an interest in sharing their experience with their peers.
Egemesha’s success shows that, if given the opportunity, men can play an important role in their partner’s pregnancy, delivery, and beyond. Applying lessons learned from Egemesha, ICAP plans to expand male involvement programs to other communities in an effort to use ICAP’s family-focused approach to address the global challenge of maternal mortality.