Every year, 15 million babies are born prematurely (before 37 weeks of gestation) and complications of premature birth is the leading cause of death for children under 5 globally. This is a staggering reality for many families in low-income countries as they struggle to provide the basic care that their newborns need to survive. This struggle only grows as mothers frequently take on the role of sole caretaker for these vulnerable newborns, often affecting their well-being and that of other children in the household. Every Preemie—SCALE, a USAID-funded project, is leading efforts to change this dynamic and engage fathers in caring for their newborns in Balaka district, Malawi.
In 2015, Every Preemie began a partnership with the Balaka district hospital and select health centers in Malawi to work on premature and low birth weight newborn care. One of the objectives of this partnership was to change the direction of newborn care from a maternal-led approach to a family-led approach, focusing on the critical role of fathers. The Family-Led Care model is designed to empower families—mothers and fathers—to care for their babies during inpatient care and at home. The model decreases the pressure that mothers face by engaging both parents in caretaking responsibilities for the baby.
A series of tools that promotes this family-led caretaking approach are being used in the hospital and health centers. These materials give fathers the resources that they need to break down traditional gender roles and contribute to the care of their baby by providing them with counseling sessions on important topics such as kangaroo mother care, at-home care, the recognition of newborn danger signs and the importance of follow-up visits. Malawi’s demonstrated commitment to furthering father involvement in the care of their premature and low birth weight newborns sets an excellent example for other countries to follow.
For more information on the Family-Led Care model, please see https://www.everypreemie.org/malawi/family-led-care/.
Every Preemie—SCALE is a 5-year USAID-funded program designed to catalyze the global and national conversation around preterm birth and low birth weight in 25 priority maternal and child health countries, primarily in Africa and South Asia. The program is implemented by PCI, the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth (GAPPS), and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).
By Devan Deignan