Melina is living together with her husband Siwedi and their newborn baby in Chishanogo, a village near Malawi’s Capital Lilongwe. The 18 year-old is enrolled in St John Malawi’s Mother and Baby Programme, which is supported through funding from the Scottish Government. The programme aims at improving maternal, newborn and child health by increasing access to health care services, improving health seeking behaviours and removing the barriers to the provision of the country’s health package.

“In my village, deaths associated with pregnancy and childbirth complications were common before the St John programme started," Melinda says. "Lack of access to health services and knowledge about safe motherhood were amongst the many reasons. I had no intention of starting antenatal care. Like any of my relatives, I was supposed to wait until it is time to give birth, and I would go to a Traditional Birth Attendant for delivery.

No one in my family ever talked about the importance of ANC or delivering at a health facility, because these services are too far away and not accessible for us.

In the end, if anything goes wrong with the pregnancy or delivery, people think the woman has been bewitched."

Funding from the Scottish Government allowed St John Malawi to introduce mobile outreach clinics in Melina’s neighbourhood. Mobile health teams with doctors and nurses set up make-shift health posts in schools or public buildings, sometimes even in tents, and St John volunteers visit women nearby and encourage them to come to the clinic for check-ups, health advice or medical treatment.

Melina learnt about the programme through a community leader, who was encouraging people to utilize the services offered in the area by St John Malawi. A few days later, St John volunteers visited the her and her husband at their home.

Melina delivered her baby at the local health facility and ensured early immunisation for the baby. She is breastfeeding her child to make sure it stays healthy.

“It’s not just my family, a lot of people have benefited from the messages that St John volunteers are teaching us. People are also benefiting from outreach clinics which provide easier access to health services for everyone."

“Having met St John volunteers during the early days of my pregnancy, I was encouraged to start ANC early, to eat nutritious food as well as to prepare for hospital delivery and saving money for transport to the clinic. I was also educated about pregnancy danger signs to watch out. My husband learnt about the importance of ANC clinic visits and birth preparedness, which made it easier for him to take part in my pregnancy journey.”

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