In Search of a Better Tomorrow

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By: Zubaida Bai, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Zubaida Bai, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

Over the last month I have been busy with a literature search and am in the process of consolidating the screening and referral tools used at resource desks at different locations by Health Leads. What makes this interesting is that I am doing most of this offline from India, along with a lot of field visits here for my company AYZH. AYZH is a social enterprise incorporated in India as well as in the U. S. that is focused on health and livelihood solutions for economically disadvantaged rural and urban women. Its core product is a $2 Clean Birth Kit that includes, among other items, a sterile sheet, soap, a razor blade and umbilical cord clamps. Such relatively simple measures could help close the gap in providing safer, cleaner births. Thus, incidences of maternal and newborn infection resulting in illness, or even death, could be reduced.

Among all my visits to hospitals and clinics, I had less access to the labor rooms of semi-urban and urban government hospitals. Generally, access in these institutions was limited to common areas and pre/post delivery areas. However, what I did see suggested systems being pushed to their limits. In the worst case, stray dogs and urine lined the hallways. Feces covered the toilets and debris littered the floor in one maternity ward. In larger hospitals I saw things happening at a chaotic speed. Indeed, in one PHC a new mother told us that although she lived closer to the city government hospital she had come to the more remote clinic to deliver as she knew she would receive more individualized attention.

In one of the hospitals, the doctor I was supposed to meet was also scared to let my little boy into the hospital fearing he would catch an infection, just by entering the place. What about the kids who are born there? I was confident I could take him in. We went around hospital where I saw women who had delivered on rusted metal beds and had to lie down on cold floors to recover. I discussed my project with the doctor and she was very excited about our product but was concerned regarding disposal of the contents since garbage disposal around the hospital is another big challenge being faced by them. This brings forth the next challenge in health, which is disposal of medical waste.

After lots of requests and assurances that I would not take any pictures, I was escorted to the maternity ward where I saw women having given birth to premature babies had to sleep on the floor due to shortage of beds amidst stagnant rain water, mosquitoes and rats. The ground so dirty and wet that even I would not dare to step into bare footed.

Seeing the situation at this hospital left me with millions of questions in my head. Why isn’t being a mother a blessing for these women? What am I going to do about this? What can we as Young Champions do about this?