Increasing men’s involvement in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission

Pediatric HIV infection remains a major public health challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. Most children with HIV acquire it from their mothers during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding. While there have been major improvements, the rate of mother-to-child transmission of HIV has plateaued. Urgent interventions are needed to reach the goals of zero new infections in children and keeping mothers alive and healthy.

Male involvement in prenatal care and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services has been shown to increase use of services and adherence to treatment. A new FACES publication showed that a novel approach holds promise for addressing barriers to male involvement and improving maternal and infant health.

Researchers implemented a rapid results initiative—an intensive, short-term approach designed to achieve results within 100 days, which can help create momentum for longer-lasting change. Steps were taken at the community, facility and individual levels to encourage men to be more involved in prenatal care. Health education messages were provided in places where communities gather, like chief’s meetings, women’s groups and beaches. Facilities offered medical checkups to men accompanying their partners. Individuals received targeted outreach, including text message reminders.

The study demonstrated that this approach contributed to increased HIV testing by male partners, earlier linkage to antiretroviral therapy (ART) among pregnant women with HIV, increased proportion of women delivering their babies at a health facility and more infants undergoing early infant diagnosis.

Expectant fathers need to be empowered with information and services that enable them to invest in their own and their families’ health. Because other programs have focused solely on educating and engaging women, men have perceived PMTCT as “women’s business.” These outcomes show that it’s possible to build in activities to increase men’s involvement even in resource-poor settings. This study offers a simple, innovative and efficient way to introduce and scale up male engagement interventions, with the potential to reduce health problems for pregnant women and new mothers.