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Impact of Muslim opinion leaders' training of healthcare providers on the uptake of MNCH services in Northern Nigeria.

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Expanding access to maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) services in traditional societies is a public health challenge, often complicated by cultural and religious beliefs about what is permitted or not permitted within a faith group. This is particularly true in the Muslim majority North of Nigeria, where deep suspicions of Western public health programmes, coupled with failing and underfunded health system, have led to the emergence of a new generation of Muslim Opinion Leaders (MOLs) with counter-narratives against family planning, immunisation and nutrition programmes. This paper reports on an innovative project implemented under the Saving Lives at Birth global partnership programme, where conservative MOLs transformed as champions were engaged as health communicators to train health providers on correct religious precepts related to MNCH. A matched subject type of study design was used to compare healthcare providers' performance in control and intervention health facilities. The result indicates a significant difference both in perception and in practices between healthcare providers in intervention and control facilities, with respect to MNCH uptake. This paper highlights the need for renewed focus on engaging faith leaders and organisations in health communication and service delivery and presents a model of sustainable engagement of champions in MNCH.

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