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Open the door to ethnic minority men in Vietnam’s delivery rooms

November 28, 2016 Written by a HealthBridge guest blogger Health care, Maternal & child health, MNCH, Vietnam Post a comment!

By Cassandra Morris an intern with HealthBridge Vietnam

Last month I came across a story in the Canadian media about the birth of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that was oddly relevant for my work with HealthBridge Vietnam as a gender and reproductive health intern (sponsored by Global Affairs Canada’s International Youth Internship Program).

The story was based on an excerpt from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (2014) memoir regarding how his birth influenced changes to hospital policies in Canada — although the credit really goes to his mother. The excerpt stated:

In 1971, the Ottawa Civic Hospital still excluded husbands from accompanying their wives in the delivery room. My mother was furious … If her husband couldn't be at her side in the hospital when she gave birth, she would have the baby — that was me — at 24 Sussex. When word of my mother's protest reached the hospital's board of directors, they promptly abolished the old-fashioned restriction, followed by other hospitals in Ottawa and eventually across the country. 

In Canada today, women can choose to receive support during labour and delivery from partners, relatives, friends, or even professional doulas. The benefits of having a support person accompany women during delivery are widely recognized. The World Health Organization advises healthcare professionals to “encourage support from the chosen birth companion”. 

Homebirth, and maternal mortality, high

Many health facilities in Vietnam continue to prohibit men from being present during childbirth. This practice can be particularly distressing for women belonging to ethnic minority groups, many of whom do not speak the same language as the healthcare professionals attending them. Rates of homebirths, without the attendance of a skilled birth attendant, remain high among ethnic minority groups, as does maternal mortality. The risk of maternal death is estimated to be four times higher for ethnic minority women than for the Kinh (Vietnamese) ethnic majority. 

Research from Northern Vietnam has highlighted that in Thai and H’mong households, men are typically present during home births. ,  I recently conducted a literature review on the birthing traditions of ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, which revealed that husbands play an active role during homebirths. Along with offering emotional support to their partners they also provide physical support while they are in their preferred birth position (e.g. sitting, squatting, and kneeling).

Assistance from a skilled birth attendant (SBA) is important for a safe delivery, but the findings in the literature revealed that ethnic minority women have reported feeling sad and afraid delivering in health facilities without their husbands.  A gender-sensitive approach to the promotion of health facility deliveries needs to account for this, which is why HealthBridge is conducting training on the importance of incorporating men into maternal healthcare service delivery. Using a participatory approach, the team will work with healthcare providers to identify strategies that facilitate male involvement.  As long as it coincides with the wishes of the pregnant woman, men should be allowed and encouraged to accompany and support their partners during antenatal checkups and throughout labour and delivery. 

Read more about our work in maternal and child health in Vietnam.

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