Today, approximately 800 women died from pregnancy- and childbirth-related causes, most of which were preventable. The same was true yesterday and will be true again tomorrow, according to statistics from the World Health Organization. This is nearly half of the level of reported maternal deaths in 1990, but it remains a significant problem to overcome.
Unsafe or unhygienic childbirths vastly increase the risk for complications for both mother and baby, including devastating and avoidable infections. Many basic medical facilities are not equipped properly to facilitate clean childbirths, simply due to lack of resources. But in numerous countries worldwide, with a notable impact in India, a small purse is making a big change in the lives of women and their babies.
In biodegradable “purses,” social enterprise ayzh offers four basics items that can prove lifesaving during birthing: a blood absorbing sheet, antibacterial soap, a sterile surgical scalpel and a sterile cord clamp. This basic package, called JANMA, comes with a price tag of $2, though add-ons can be included for up to a $5 total cost depending on the needs of the health facility, such as sterilized gloves, antiseptic cream and sanitary pads. The products are made and the kits are assembled in India, by women, for women. Providing job opportunities is a way for ayzh to ensure it makes a multi-faceted impact.
After the birth, the purse can be taken home and reused by the mother. Not using plastic to contain the products was a conscious choice by the organization and is an element that distinguishes it from other birth kits available.
Most importantly, the kit meets the “Six Cleans” of childbirth: clean hands, clean perineum, clean tying instruments, clean cutting surface, clean cord cutting and clean delivery surface. Founder Zubaida Bai, who grew up in Chennai, India, learned first-hand the dangers of unhygienic childbirth after she contracted an infection that took her a year to recover from. “That was the moment when I promised I would never let that happen to anyone else,” said Bai.
Along with locations in India, kits have been sent to a number of other countries, including Malawi, Afghanistan, Tanzania and Haiti. An August 2013 video by the organization said that 32,000 kits had been distributed at that time – that’s 64,000 women and babies helped.
It also requested additional funding to gain data on its impact through the Harvard School of Health Sciences and for an education initiative that provides training information on how to use the kits through texts and voice messages to mobile devices, in local languages. Unfortunately, the organization lacks in-depth information about its products and distribution on its website (though Tumblr and Twitter accounts appear to be active), so it’s not clear what its current impact is and whether those initiatives were successful. It would also be interesting to know if ayzh offers the kits to women outside of health centres (i.e. for at-home births) and how it markets its products.