It seems so simple. A little kit with six essential items that can help a skilled birth attendant deliver a baby safely. We’re talking about items as basic as a plastic sheet for a labouring mother to lie on, a sterile scalpel to cut the umbilical cord, and gloves for the birth attendant to wear.
But these items – all packed into little kits by volunteers here in Australia – are helping to save lives. And I was fortunate enough to see this firsthand.
Earlier this year, I travelled to Uganda with Birthing Kit Foundation Australia, which World Vision is partnering with to resource and deliver clean birthing kits to our maternal and child health projects. These kits are making their way into the hands of women living in some of the most difficult places on earth. Places where being pregnant can literally be a death sentence.
In one particular community I visited, I learnt that before women had access to clean birthing kits, an average of 10 would visit their health centre each month during pregnancy. When it came time to give birth, even fewer would go to their health centre, knowing it lacked the basics needed to help them through labour. Now, with the introduction of clean birthing kits, 40 or 50 are coming each month during their pregnancy and most are choosing to give birth at a centre, with the help of skilled birth attendants.
What also amazed me was more than just keeping mothers and babies safe during labour, these kits are increasing overall engagement with health centres both before and after birth and playing a major part in the transformation of a whole community.
For example, I learnt that after giving birth in health centres, women are joining mum’s groups where they can learn about breastfeeding and preparing nutritious food. Many of these groups are then transforming into savings groups to help mums cover the costs of caring for children, as well as to better meet household needs. Some groups are even becoming empowered to advocate to government for better healthcare and other services in their community.
Just the fact that up to 50 women a month are now using these local health facilities is also increasing the resources the Ugandan government is directing to this area – as leaders can now see the facilities are actually vital to the wellbeing of this community. Furthermore, the kits are increasing the engagement of fathers in the birth of their children and helping to keep skilled birth attendants safe from disease during delivery.
All with just six items!