Women may joke about sending their husbands to school in order to be trained in how to make their wives’ lives better, but in Niger this is a reality. Husbands’ Schools exist to improve maternal health across the nation.
According to data compiled by The World Bank, in 2015, it is estimated there will be 553 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in Niger. While this number over the years has been on the decline, it remains high relative to many other countries.
In order to combat this issue, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) created Husbands’ Schools to help maternal mortality rates drop by bringing men into the conversation of maternal health and healthy spacing between bearing children.
“Our team at UNFPA knew that involving men would be a game-changer,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UNFPA. A renowned physician and public health expert, he was previously Nigerian Minister of Health and Director-General of the country’s agency on AIDS. He wrote about the Husbands’ Schools on the blog for the organization called One.
“The Husbands’ Schools serve as a forum for discussion, decision-making and action, bringing together married men with national non-governmental organizations, health workers, members of the community, and cultural and religious leaders,” he said.
With 11 trial groups formed in 2004, the program has continued to grow to several different countries. Today there are around 1,226 Husbands’ Schools in areas that struggle with maternal health the most.
These groups of men “meet around twice a month to analyze and discuss specific cases within the community in the field of reproductive health,” said Osotimehin. “This interaction is important since it gives the members insight into how they each perceive maternal health issues and problems.”
Once problems are brought forward, the men discuss the available and most appropriate resources to resolve the issues. With health workers and other leaders there, these resources can be discussed in detail.
As a result of the husband school system, some of the world’s most notorious areas for maternal mortality are making incredible changes.
“Their emphasis on the close link between sanitation and health, for example, has resulted in improved hygiene in villages,” said Osotimehin. “Latrines have been built in some of the communities with Husbands’ Schools to enhance women’s comfort and privacy.”
Another example of improvements that have been made from the Husbands’ Schools is the encouragement of women to give birth in a hospital instead of at home. However, this has proven to be an obstacle for villages far away from professional health care.
“In the village of Oussou, there is no easy way to get to the hospital. So the local model husbands gathered a list of the phone numbers of people with cars, whom they called when a woman went into labor…The men then saved money so that they were recently able to buy a used car, which they use as an ambulance.”
Since the start of the Husbands’ School program, “The number of childbirths attended by skilled personnel has doubled in communities where the schools operate, and family planning services have tripled,” he said.