Why pregnancy support groups?
Child.org's strapline is "We Do What Works." That means we're always assessing what we do to improve our impact. It means we're not married to one specific type of intervention - we seize the best opportunities we find to improve the lives of children, based on the latest evidence.
On Friday we launched our biggest fundraising campaign to date - Team Mum. When you donate to join Team Mum before 30 April, your donation will be matched by the UK government, and all that match funding will be spent on creating pregnancy support groups in Meru.
At the start of our campaign, I wanted to share with you some of the reasons we want to fund this programme - and the evidence behind our approach. This blog includes some of the information from the speech that Marti and I gave at The Shindig last Friday.
In Kenya, one in 26 babies die before their first birthday.
Life can be hard for women in Kenya, but it’s particularly tough for those living in rural Meru. In this region, less than 17% of mums are accessing the recommended amount of antenatal care visits. Rates of delivery in hospitals are nearly half of the national average. Rates of postnatal care within 2-3 days of delivery are low at 26%.
There are even more problem factors with the lack of infrastructure in roads and healthcare provision; travel is difficult, meaning a high turnover of health workers, inadequate facilities and erratic supplies.
The status of women in the region is low, with little say in the control of local resources and little personal agency in issues of healthcare seeking. Traditional practices and damaging social gender norms are common. 31% of adolescent girls in Meru have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), bringing additional risks in delivery. Teenage pregnancy is very common - 42% of pregnancies are to adolescent girls.
There’s another reason Child.org want to launch this programme in Meru - because we’re already working there! Thanks to the support of Soroptimist International Great Britain and Ireland, we’ve been running women’s groups in Meru for a few years now, offering agricultural training and, just recently, mother’s nutritional training. That means we’re equipped and we’ve been building the capacity of CIFORD, our local community partner, to enable them to deliver a complex programme like pregnant women’s groups on this large scale.
The women in the photo above is called Winfred. Winfred was still in school when she became pregnant with her first child. She wanted to continue with her studies, but her parents refused and told her she needed to earn money. Winfred says she was afraid to tell her parents about her pregnancy and when she did, she said “they changed, and there was no more love again.”
Winfred now has two children and lives with her grandmother. She’s training to work as a hairdresser. She struggles with the stigma she faces as a young mum in her community, she says “I am unhappy when I meet a group of people laughing, I think they are laughing at me.”
Feeling rejected and judged by their local community can make young mums isolated and vulnerable, because they have no one to ask for help and support.
We’re very happy to say that Winfred has recently begun a local training programme, funded by Child.org, where she has met other young mums. Learning with other local mums has given Winfred a new perspective on life. She said “I feel free, I feel like I’m my own person. I am happy. I feel like I’m going somewhere with my life, I feel like I can be something in life.”
The evidence for pregnancy support groups
Any scared new mum who has attended an NCT class, been able to ask a question on Mumsnet or simply felt lucky to have strong and supportive mum friends around them will understand the value of the groups we're trying to fund for new mums like Winfred in Meru.
But there's lots of evidence from the world of international development that supporting mums is the best way forward too. This blog from Melina Gates is a great read to explain why "healthy, economically empowered women are some of development’s best allies."
A large study published in 2013, which you can read here, has been conducted into the impact and cost-effectiveness of women's groups as an intervention to improve maternal and newborn health. The study included a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials in four low-income countries (Bangladesh, India, Malawi, and Nepal) and found that exposure to women's groups was associated with a 20% reduction in neonatal mortality. In studies where at least 30% of pregnant women participated in the groups, there was a 49% reduction in maternal mortality and a 33% reduction in neonatal mortality!
Support groups are promoted by the Baby Friendly Community Initiative and have been tested in Kenya through this pilot.
If you have any questions about the pregnant women’s groups you’re funding by donating to Team Mum, we would love to hear from you. Drop us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org!