By: Mariko Rasmussen, Program Assistant at Women Deliver
If people don’t receive comprehensive sex education growing up, what is another option for disseminating critical sexual and reproductive health information to them? By targeting young married couples in Egypt, The Mabrouk! (“Congratulations!”) Initiative strategically focuses efforts on young couples preparing to start a family. Established in 2004, the initiative combines a multimedia campaign with interpersonal and community empowerment approaches as part of the Communication for Health Living (CHL) project to create sustainable social change related to health practices.
According to the organizers, there are about 700,000 marriages in Egypt each year. Utilizing marriage as the entry point for family health, the initiative was designed to guide young married couples through this transition in their lives. It does so by raising awareness and discussion on key decisions they will make about having children, including spousal communication on health, birth spacing, antenatal care, safe delivery, postpartum care, and infant health.
The initiative also includes entertainment-education television spots that address various health themes for newlyweds. Features include call-in contests, on-location interviews with couples, and messages concerning communication, birth spacing, and positive gender roles. Another essential part of the initiative includes postpartum home visits, during which nurses discuss infant health and postpartum care for the mother, and encourage family planning. In 2005 and 2006, nurses conducted over 23,000 of these home visits in 8 governorates of the country, and hospital staff delivered messages and materials, including the Mabrouk! booklet, to over 130,000 postpartum women. The booklet is also distributed by health outreach workers, marriage registrars, and priests as an insert in popular magazines. It contains instructions for each reproductive life stage. Another key aspect of the initiative is to provide women’s empowerment training by working with local community development associations to address the health needs of villages and carry out health programs.
Targeted villages have experienced dramatic improvements in maternal and child health, including a 30 percent increase in proper prenatal care, a 14 percent increase in births with skilled attendants, and a 27 percent drop in underweight babies. Research findings indicate that women who practice such early family life-stage behaviors as prenatal care and breastfeeding are more likely to perform later life-stage behaviors like handwashing before cooking and self-exams for breast cancer.
The Partners behind the Mabrouk! Initiative are the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs (JHUCCP), and Save the Children, Egypt.