The support and understanding of the male partner is necessary for all women going through pregnancy and childbirth. It is especially important when it comes to HIV testing during pregnancy and follow-up care and support for those living with HIV. Male involvement has been shown to reduce HIV-related stigma and fear of HIV testing during pregnancy due to violence and abandonment.
In Malawi, 40,000 babies are born with HIV every year. Without any intervention, two-thirds of these children will not reach their first birthday. With the use of antiretrovirals, the transmission of HIV from mother to baby can be reduced, but many times the first step towards health is through the support of the community.
Context is everything, and in Malawi, men are often the primary decision-makers at all levels of the household. As a result, their influence can greatly affect their partners' attitudes and behaviors. Reason and experience show that if men understand the importance of health care services early in pregnancy, the couple is more likely to be tested for HIV, and women who are pregnant and living with HIV are more likely to enroll in PMTCT.
With the support of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD), UNICEF and the Ministry of Health of Malawi launched the Male Champion Model in 2012. Through the program, "champions" encourage other men to be involved in the health of their partners.
So far, 3,400 male champions in six districts have been trained. According to Beatrice Chigamba, Head Nurse at Ngabu District Clinic, "This seems to be having a dramatic effect on the number of women testing for HIV during pregnancy, which is ultimately decreasing the number of babies being born with HIV."
Watch UNICEF's "Fifty Cents a Father" video for World AIDS Day 2014 below: