As the second day of the CORE Group’s Spring Meeting concluded, three themes kept recurring throughout the plenary and some of the smaller, concurrent break-out sessions.
Second: engaging men in maternal and child health programs.
And third: the power of social networks for girls.
At a high level, the CORE Group itself is built on a model of collaboration, encouraging people to work together. In a passing conversation with former CORE Board of Directors Chairperson Tom Davis, he reflected on how the meeting had gone so far, saying there was a good balance of discussing (and sometimes debating) the use of new innovations in health, as well as consensus around priorities and methods already being tested and scaled up.
There is even more discussion, though, around collaboration in the field and with the field. How do large projects, like MCHIP, or donor organizations, like USAID, connect with and leverage the potential in local nongovernmental organizations who know the needs of their own communities from a very direct and intimate perspective?
In the plenary session, USAID and AMREF presented on the Child Survival and Health Grants Program (CSHGP), speaking to the broader goals of collaboration with local community members and organizations, as well as the personal experiences from one CSHGP project. Concern Worldwide highlighted their Innovations projects, which allow local community members to suggest innovations to improve health outcomes, taking the unique approach of soliciting direct input from people living in the field.
One such innovation project, being implemented in Orissa, India, was working to train and deploy male community health volunteers as complements to the female community health volunteers already being deployed in the field. Male volunteers may be able to engage with individuals (often men) hesitant to take advice from female volunteers, and also provide an added level of security when deployed in partnership with a female volunteer.
This is just one example of how men can be engaged in promoting maternal and child health interventions that emerged from throughout today. In the global health community, we cannot equate “gender based programming” as “for or implemented by females only.” We must engage men in promoting behaviors like taking a child with any danger signs to a health facility immediately (or allowing his wife to take the child, unaccompanied) in order to continue to improve health outcomes.
When including men in these programs, we must not forget the power of girls supporting one another. Programs administered by Pathfinder International, Population Council, and others are facilitating safe space groups for girls. They take different forms from country to country and city to city--in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, girls meet in an abandoned shipping container weekly; in other countries, they meet in offices daily.
Regardless of frequency or venue, these groups have proven powerful in providing a place where girls are expected to arrive on a regular basis, where their presence is anticipated and valued, and where mentors and facilitators can share valuable health messaging that will promote sound health behaviors as adolescents, as young women, and eventually as mothers.