Background: Partner involvement has been deemed fundamental in prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) programmes, but is difficult to achieve. This study aimed to explore acceptability of the PMTCT programme components and to identify structural and cultural challenges to male involvement.
Methods: The study was conducted during 2007-2008 in rural and urban areas of Moshi in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. Mixed methods were used, and included focus group discussions with fathers and mothers, in-depth interviews with fathers, mothers and health personnel, and a survey of 426 mothers bringing their four-week-old infants for immunization at five reproductive and child health clinics.
Results: Routine testing for HIV of women at the antenatal clinic was highly acceptable and appreciated by men, while other programme components, notably partner testing, condom use and the infant feeding recommendations, were met with continued resistance. Very few men joined their wives for testing and thus missed out on PMTCT counselling. The main barriers reported were that women did not have the authority to request their husbands to test for HIV and that the arena for testing, the antenatal clinic, was defined as a typical female domain where men were out of place.
Conclusions: Deep-seated ideas about gender roles and hierarchy are major obstacles to male participation in the PMTCT programme. Empowering women remains a huge challenge. Empowering men to participate by creating a space within the PMTCT programme that is male friendly should be feasible and should be highly prioritized for the PMTCT programme to achieve its potential.