‘Men-only’ spaces could improve prevention of mother-to-child transmission

30 July 2021

Zambian study suggests men feel uncomfortable in women-dominated antenatal classes, resulting in many having unanswered questions about pregnancy and HIV

Man and his partner touching her pregnant belly

A study with men in Lusaka, Zambia suggests that ‘men-only’ antenatal talks which include information on HIV and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) could help male partners be better informed on these issues.

Between January and May 2019, researchers interviewed 18 partners of pregnant women with HIV; 11 of the men had HIV and 7 did not. The age of participants ranged from 29 to 61 (average age 40).

Participants reported being the main decision-makers on sexual and reproductive health (SRH). But most men said they did not have enough information about SRH, particularly in the context of HIV.

While all men saw the importance of going with their partners to antenatal care appointments, and the need to be aware of PMTCT, certain things stopped some men from going. These barriers included clinic times clashing with working hours, and the fear of being forced to take an HIV test during an appointment.

Many of the men who had gone to an antenatal care appointment felt that most of the information provided during the visit had been aimed at their partner rather than them.

Participants said that only a few men came to antenatal health talks, which made them feel uncomfortable and out of place. One man described being at a health talk with 50 women and only a few men. This feeling of being uncomfortable stopped men from asking questions.

Participants said that a space where male partners could ask their own questions about pregnancy, especially a pregnancy affected by HIV, would be very useful.

Participants said they wanted more information on how to ensure their baby would be born without HIV. Men who did not have HIV also wanted to know more about how to prevent themselves from getting HIV.

Participants also had some incorrect knowledge about HIV and SRH, which they said they had received from healthcare providers.

For example, some participants said they had learnt during a health talk that couples should use condoms during pregnancy to prevent their unborn child from getting HIV. But if the female partner had HIV this would not be an effective PMTCT measure.

Many participants did not understand how one partner could have HIV while the other did not or how to best prevent HIV transmission in such relationships.

Men with HIV showed less awareness of HIV transmission and PMTCT then men who did not have HIV, suggesting they would particularly benefit from men-only antenatal health spaces.

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Written by Hester Phillips