In many parts of Honduras, family health is still considered the responsibility of women. Men do not usually get involved — nor are they expected to — in the care of pregnant women, and children. Many women and children continue to suffer from ill-health and limited access to health services.
But as the result of a CIDA-funded project in the departments (provinces) of Copan and Santa Barbara, many Honduran men have started taking on new roles, as active and engaged participants and advocates of maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH).
Don Ramon is one of these men. Based in his rural village, he works as a monitor for the national health strategy and as a traditional birth attendant. When his sister died giving birth, he had to raise her daughter as his own. When his own wife gave birth to their children, the option of going to a birthing clinic did not exist, and so he learned to assist during the home delivery. Don Ramon is challenging the views on gender roles held by most people in his community.
Steady progress has been made towards achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 in the Americas. According to the United Nations, between 1990 and 2009, deaths of children under the age of five decreased by almost half—44 percent. However, children from the poorest 20 percent of households are at almost three times the risk of dying before their fifth birthday than children in the most affluent 20 percent of households.
Maternal death is also a major issue — progress towards reaching MDG 5 has been slow. In Honduras, the number of maternal deaths remains high at 110 deaths for every 100,000 live births according to UNICEF.
With CIDA's support, the Canadian Red Cross in partnership with the Honduran Red Cross, the Honduran Ministry of Health, several municipal organizations and local communities began a project to improve MNCH in 2006.
Called REDES, meaning networks in Spanish, the project aims to strengthen networks in the community, support national strategies for MNCH, strengthen the health system and increase the participation of men during pregnancy, birth and post-partum activities. This will help Honduras achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health. The project contributes to CIDA's priority theme of securing the future of children and youth and improving maternal, newborn and child health.
Red Cross volunteers, health personnel, and community leaders are trained to educate the community members on promoting the health and nutrition of children, such as encouraging exclusive breastfeeding and preventing diseases, such as diarrhea, and to take gender into account. Communities are also educated on recognizing the danger signs in pregnancy, during birth, and after the birth of the newborn. Health support groups for men also play an important role in reaching out to men and giving them the education they need to be supportive of activities related to MNCH and make informed decisions around the health of their families as well as their own health.
Elaine Hernandez, the CRC delegate to Honduras has seen first hand how the REDES project and its focus on gender has increased the involvement of men in MNCH. She says: "One medical doctor at a health clinic used to only want to see the women& #8213; men got in the way —and now the doctor gives the stethoscope to the husband to listen to the heartbeat of the child. This is really bonding the men with their babies! The nurse at a maternity clinic says the husbands are now accompanying the women to the birth. The nurse said she takes pictures of the couples at the clinic when they leave with their baby in their arms."
Don Ramon has been a model for these men. He is trusted among the women and men in the surrounding villages as a knowledgeable person in matters of pregnancy, birth and post-partum issues. He also has another talent — the ability to capture key messages about health and gender equality in the form of songs. Sixteen of these songs have been recorded on a CD and Don Ramon is often invited to perform at community health fairs with his group "The Aguileros".
The Canadian Red Cross has been active in maternal and child health in Latin America and around the world since 1997. Over the past seven years alone, the Canadian Red Cross has invested more than $70 million in MNCH projects in 20 developing countries, reaching more than 12 million beneficiaries directly and 40 million indirectly.
By the end of 2011, the REDES project benefitted almost 80,000 men, women and children and: