$2 birth kit could prevent hundreds of deaths every day

by Lisa Anderson | https://twitter.com/LisaAndersonNYC | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 30 July 2013 04:17 GMT

Buthaina sleeps with her newborn baby at El Fasher Women's Hospital in Sudan, on Oct. 31, 2011. REUTERS/UNAMID/Handout

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Life-saving supplies that come in a handy “purse” for postnatal use

What if you arrived at a hospital to give birth, only to be sent home because you didn’t bring your own delivery room supplies?

In some parts of the world that happens on a regular basis, sometimes with fatal results. Some 800 women die daily from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, complications that often could be easily prevented with access to proper care and the most basic of supplies, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Ninety-nine percent of these maternal deaths occur in the developing world, where many women still give birth at home in a less-than-sterile environment or can be turned away from under-equipped hospitals and clinics if they don’t bring their own supplies with them.  At home or in the hospital, the lack of adequate basic supplies provides an opening for infection and other complications.

The JANMA Clean Birth Kit, produced for about $2, shows that one solution to the supplies problem needn’t be complicated or expensive. Assembled and packaged by local women in rural India, it is a biodegradable jute envelope containing a soft, blood-absorbent sheet that provides a clean surface for birth; medicinal soap for the birth attendant; disposable gloves; a sterile blade to cut the umbilical cord and a sterile clamp to secure it.

The kit is the brainchild and flagship product of Zubaida Bai.  A young product engineer with an MBA in social and sustainable enterprise, she is the founder and chief executive officer of the 3-year-old, for-profit social enterprise AYZH.  Based in Chennai, India, and Fort Collins, Colorado, the firm aims to develop and distribute low-cost health products to poor rural women. Its name is an acronym drawn from the first names of Bai, her husband and their two young sons. It is pronounced “eyes”, because, she said, it is committed to “looking at women’s issues differently.”

Bai, who works with her husband, was a TED India Fellow, an Ashoka Maternal Health Fellow and an Echoing Green Fellow.

After working as a product engineer for years, she said, she was inspired to start AYZH when she contracted an infection after the birth of her first son, who is now 7 years old.

She developed the JANMA kit in 2009 and has sold some 30,000 kits to date to NGOs, clinics and hospitals, primarily in Africa and Asia. In many cases, the kits are distributed free to mothers. In other situations, women who can afford to do so are asked to buy the kits for less than $5 retail at local pharmacies.

AYZH has partnered with groups such as the Karuna Trust in India and the Birthing Project USA to purchase and distribute the kits. 

The Karuna Trust distributes the kits for free to maternity patients in the 68 primary health centres it operates in eight Indian states, according to Dr. Deepashree Mysore Ravi, who coordinates the distribution of the kits. Karuna has purchased more than 4,000 of them to date.

“The JANMA kit is handy and neatly packed with essentials for a clean delivery,” the doctor wrote in an email. “We have found that the kits are helpful in infection prevention and promoting the concept of hygiene during birth among rural women, which is of the utmost importance. In turn, (this) contributes to a reduction of maternal deaths due to infection at delivery time.”

She said she only wished that there was more than one sanitary sheet in the pack.

“They’re affordable, and we use women in Europe and the U.S. to actually sponsor a kit for a woman,” said Kathryn Hall-Trujillo, founding director of the Birthing Project USA, which focuses on improving birth outcomes for women of colour.

The Birthing Project buys the kits for $4 and sells them to the sponsors for $5, making $1 in the process. “You can trade one cup of gourmet coffee for one safe birth,” said Hall-Trujillo, who distributes the kits in Honduras, Haiti, Nigeria, Malawi and Rwanda. Her charity already has purchased more than 5,000  kits, with a goal of buying 50,000.

Hall-Trujillo said that in Malawi the kits incentivised traditional midwives to partner with clinics, where they had previously been unwelcome, and incentivised clinics to welcome the midwives by offering the birthing kits to both the midwives and the clinics. Often, she said, the mothers also received a kit.

“There are two things the women appreciate” about the kits, she said of the mothers. “One is that it comes from another woman, not USAID.”   The other thing is that, once used, in many cases the envelope containing the kit provides a woman with “the first purse she ever had in her life” and one “designed by a woman,” she said.

In fact, that idea of the AYZH container as a pocketbook provides the slogan behind the firm’s effort to raise $50,000 through the crowdfunding platform Indegogo to evaluate the scale of impact of the JANMA Clean Birthing Kit. Called “small purse BIG CHANGE”, the fundraising campaign will run between August 18 and Sept. 21.

Late this year, AYZH plans to offer a newborn kit, containing a clean receiving blanket, infant hat, antibiotic eye cream, umbilical cord medication and gauze to apply it, that will retail for less than $5.

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