Meet & Greet: Steven Iphani, Programs Manager of COWLHA in Malawi

April 6, 2016

Steven Iphani is Programs Manager of Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (COWLHA) in Malawi. COWLHA is one of the implementing partners in the project “Quality improvement of HIV and RMNH services”. A baseline study conducted aims to assess knowledge about and perception of quality reproductive, maternal and newborn health (RMNH) services by women living with HIV and service providers in Malawi. We asked Steven about the most surprising findings and what’s been done with the recommendations from the study. Meet Steven!

Very few people know about existing structures to report complaints

I found two findings in the research to be quite surprising. The first one is that "one third of the women do not see the need for partners to join them to the clinic for antenatal care services". I found this surprising because women often complain that there is minimal involvement of men in maternal and child health issues. This finding may mean that either there is need for the women (as well as men) to be sensitized on the benefits of male involvement or it may also reflect the fact that most antenatal carefacilities do not have a conducive environment for engaging men.

The second surprising finding of the research is that the majority of the respondents did not know where to report complaints. This is against the background that the Mitundu Community Hospital already had a Health Advisory committee prior to project implementation, which although not that active was still known to the community. But this may mean that not many people knew what the committee is supposed to be doing. It also means that the hospital does not have the office of the Ombudsman where complaints can be filed. 

Women living with HIV as health advisors in improving quality of RMNH services

The research helped the implementation of the project. We have been able to ensure that some of the gaps identified are addressed. For instance, the project has strengthened incorporation of women living with HIV as health advisors to highlight issues affecting women living with HIV in relation to RMNH services. Although the women are not advisors per se, they are playing such a role in meetings by making sure that advocacy issues meant to improve quality of RMNH services are taken on board in decision making processes.

A good working relationship between the hospital management and women's rights committee resulted in establishment of protocols for reporting poor quality RMNH services. Raising of issues is no longer seen as blaming the facility but rather a collective responsibility to improve quality of services.

In addition, hospital management has entrusted the responsibility of tracing people not adhering to HIV treatment to the women's rights committees as one way of ensuring that HIV and RMNH services are integrated. 

A factsheet of the baseline study with most significant findings and recommendations is available. 

The Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi (COWLHA) seeks to enhance the protection and promotion of rights of women living with HIV and AIDS. It unites different groups of women as a civil society force in dealing with issues on gender and women’s rights in the context of HIV and AIDS that impact on the lives of women living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi.

The project ‘Quality HIV and RMNH services through good clinical governance and community-driven accountability’ aims to improve clinical governance with involvement of targeted clients in Lilongwe district. In the project 405 women living with HIV, will be taught about rights concerning RMNH. This will enable them to assist health workers in improving health services. The project is coordinated by STOP AIDS NOW! and ICCO Malawi in partnership with COWLHA, CYDSE, MANET+, MASUNA and RISE.

This article was published in the STOP AIDS NOW! e-news April 2016: "Focus on research"