Birth kits: An immediate solution to lowering maternal deaths

Birth kits: An immediate solution to lowering maternal deaths

57 million women give birth each year without the help of a trained professional. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/7203470@N03/2366525625/">hugrakka(Flicker)</a>
57 million women give birth each year without the help of a trained professional. Photo: hugrakka(Flicker)

Bringing one life into the world shouldn't mean sacrificing another. While the developing world scrambles to secure funding for midwifery services, there's a cheap, short-term solution: birth kits.

The risk of death due to pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 8,000 in developed countries, as opposed to 1 in 17 in developing countries, according to the organization Unite For Sight. Yearly, approximately 57 million women give birth in their home without the help of a trained professional, increasing the risk of complications.

Midwives are an essential player in lowering maternal deaths. "Midwives can save women's and newborns' lives if they are properly trained and equipped, and if a support network is available," writes the World Health Organization. Worldwide, the WHO estimates, there is a shortage of 350,000 midwives. But training 350,000 new midwives won't happen overnight. In the meantime, birth kits could fill the gap.

Birth kits provide the tools for a safer and sanitary delivery, including soap to wash hands, razors and ties for the umbilical cord, plastic sheets for a clean surface, and an instruction sheet.

The impact of birth kits can be life-saving but their success depends on acceptability within the community where it is introduced. At times, modifications might be needed such as redesigning the instruction sheet to use images instead of words, considering low literacy rates. PATH, an international organization which focuses on global health and well-being, has produced kits used in Bangladesh, Egypt and Nepal. Cutting the umbilical cord on a coin is considered good luck in Nepal. To adhere to traditional customs, PATH created a kit that includes a plastic rupee.

Another common problem: Cutting the umbilical cord with unsanitary, used razor blades. Disposable razor blades or an illustrated instruction sheet encouraging woman and midwives to sterilize reusable blades after every use could reduce this problem. The Janma clean delivery birthing kit by AYZH is making modifications to its current scalpel handle design to discourage reuse.

Though midwives are the ideal choice for safe births, families can't always afford their services. Government and non-profit programs that subsidize midwifery programs aren't economically sustainable in the long run. A model pursued by the Midwifery Association of Pakistan involves changing public perceptions of the midwife's role in health care, advocates for government-set standards for midwifery education, and lobbies for professional rights.

Until midwifery is economically viable and publicly understood, we need an affordable stop-gap solution to save lives. Maternal mortality will continue to rise if birth kits—and, eventually, midwifery services—aren’t accessible to the women who need them now.

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