In 2009, I moved with my husband, one-year-old daughter and four-year-old son to work with trauma survivors at the Mae Tao clinic on the Thai-Burma border. While there, and at Angor Children’s Hospital in Cambodia, I learned that midwifery care was non-existent. Wanting to find ways to support pregnant mothers, I trained as a doula and, later, as a Lamaze childbirth educator.
In 2011, I traveled to a ground-breaking, private birthing center in Uganda (Shanti Uganda) to try out my new doula skills. In addition to working at the Shanti Uganda Birthing Center, I volunteered at the local hospital. What a life-changer!
There was a shocking lack of sterile supplies for birthing, for example one woman gave birth on the dress she wore to the hospital. I later learned that in addition to lack of supplies being unpleasant for the mother, it was unhygienic and could cause infection.
My time at the hospital gave me my mission. I decided to work to give pregnant women access to clean birthing supplies.
In the beginning, I broadly researched maternal and infant health in the developing world. I found out that 1 million women and infants die of infection after birth each year.
Children whose mothers die are ten times more likely to die within two years of their mothers’ death. For every woman who dies, thirty more endure a debilitating illness or permanent disability.
As I delved into where and how I might be able to help, Laos came onto my radar. I had traveled there extensively and was shocked to learn that the country has one of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. A staggering 80% of births occur at home and only 20% have a skilled attendant present. Women stay home because of distance and expense: it can cost a month’s wages for transportation, accommodations, food and medicine. Further, clinics are under-resourced and understaffed: There are about 300 midwives for Laos’ population of 6.5 million; the rate of doctors, nurses, midwives is 6.7/10,000 people.
Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, there is hope. Many of these deaths are preventable by providing education about clean birthing practices and Clean Birth Kits, which promote and enable clean birth. We can do something!
By supplying Clean Birth Kits — which the WHO and United Nations have recommended for decades — we can prevent needless infections. The kits are especially effective for home births, which represent 80% of births in Laos, because they give pregnant women and their family members picture instructions and the tools to make birth safe.
Here’s what our kits contain:
- Padded blood absorbing sheet for comfort and easy clean up
- Medicated soap to prepare a safe birth environment
- Sterile surgical blade for cutting the umbilical cord
- Cord clips for precision and to help prevent infection
- Biodegradable bag
- Pictorial instructions
The best part is that the kits and training for a community health worker costs just $5.
Two lives saved for $5. Pretty good value, right?
CleanBirth.org has partnered with a non-profit in the remote Salavan (Saravan) Province in southern Laos. The Lao organization already has local community health workers serving local women and children. The model is effective: neighbors helping neighbors in their own language, respectful of their customs and traditions. CleanBirth.org simply provides local staff with Clean Birth Kits and training in hygienic birthing practices. The locals carry the information and kits into the community.
I am thrilled to begin training community health workers on November 11. The trip will certainly be an adventure and I hope that you will join me, via this blog, on the journey. I greatly appreciate your reading and spreading the word about CleanBirth.org.