Village health workers (VHWs) in Gwanda have bemoaned the low involvement of men from the district in the registration of pregnancies. They said this was a threat to efforts to eliminate new HIV infections in infants.
Under the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme aimed at eliminating new HIV infections in infants by 2015, men are encouraged to accompany their partners to the ante-natal clinics (ANC) to register their pregnancies within the first 14 weeks.
"Most men from our district are in South Africa and Botswana and this makes it impossible for many of them to accompany their partners to the clinics," said Sikhanyisiwe Masuku from Bethel Village in Gwanda's Ward 14.
"As VHWs, we are doing our best to encourage the culture but response remains very low. We have heard that in some areas, traditional leaders have embarked on an operation called "Perekedza nhumbu yako" [Operation accompany your pregnancy], but that cannot work here because the men are not locally-based."
Speaking during a field tour organised by Unicef, JF Kapnek Trust's community-based project co-ordinator, Brian Nachipo, explained that it was important for men to accompany women to register at clinics so they could get tested together.
"The man becomes a supporting pillar compared to a situation where he waits for the woman to return from the Clinic with her results, only to blame her for a positive status for example and even beating her up instead of accepting their situation and planning for their unborn baby."
Nachipo shared statistics which showed that of the six districts participating in the pilot programme on the integration of HIV services and nutrition which began in 2010, Gwanda had the lowest number of male partners who have been tested together with their pregnant partners between April and September 2012.
Of the 992 Gwanda women who registered their pregnancies within 14 weeks between April and June 2012, only 138 were tested together with their partners while 147 out of 1 042 who registered between July and September were tested with their partners.
Stanley Ndlovu, a VHW from Swisha Village in Ward 13, said there was need to engage more men to be VHWs so they could sensitise and encourage other men on the importance of being involved in ANC and VCT services.