We met "CleanBirth" on twitter and then got to know her better on a Twitter party hosted last week by @worldmomsblog. This unfolding story is a concrete example of how social media can forge new connections and learning--very rapidly. It's also an example of how one person makes a difference for hundreds of mothers.
CleanBirth.org works in Laos on the extremely high rates of maternal mortality there. There are so many barriers to women getting to the clinic (tradition, family constraints, money, distance) but if the nurses can convey the benefits to moms and baby we may make some headway.
As stated by the founder, Kristyn Zalota "Why Laos?... I have spent 2 years total living in Thailand and have traveled quite a bit in Laos. I became interested in the issue of birth after having my own kids. While I volunteered for most of 2009-10 on the Thai-Burma border and in Cambodia, I kept hearing "there's no prenatal and postnatal care." Six months after returning from Southeast Asia, I traveled to Uganda as a doula and learned about Clean Birth Kits.
Interesting that she learned about clean birth kits in Uganda and took the idea to Laos.
"When I learned about Laos' crazy high maternal and infant mortality statistics, I put the kits and Laos together. I contacted a few non-profits in Laos, which work in the area of mom/baby health, and offered to fund kits. Our Village Association, CleanBirth.org's partner, took me up on my offer. Together, we conducted out first training of local nurses in November 2012 and launched a pilot project, distributing kits. The pilot is going well and we are now moving on to supply the first nurses with a full 9 months of kits, as well as fund more training and kits for 3 other districts.
The obstacles for girls are intense. Often they are undernourished and they are far from home. When the Lao girls marry (around age 14) they move to their husband's village. When is comes time to give birth, religion dictates that no member of the husband's family can help her. The birth occurs outside. Her family may live too far away to come help the girl. In practice this means that girls are often outside laboring alone and that there is no system for identifying complications.
The nurses involved in Our Village Association are creating clinic spaces and nursing practices that are 'outside religion.' This allows them to improve clean birth, attend births, have girls come to clinics and offer support without interfering with religious norms. It is a very delicate balance between respecting religion and protecting mothers and infants. We will follow this story as it evolves as we're eager to hear what else the nurses need to improve the odds of a healthy mother and infant in this area of Laos.
Photo courtesy of CleanBirth.org depicts local nurses associated with the project.