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Simple steps save mothers and babies lives

Image source: Harsh Patel

FORTY Monash University students recently paid $5 each for the privilege of packing six items into two hundred plastic zip lock bags.

A piece of gauze, a plastic sheet, some cotton cord, a bar of soap, pair of gloves and a sharp blade are not just any items.

Collectively, they constitute the contents of a Clean Birthing Kit that the Birthing Kit Foundation Australia supplies to pregnant women living in rural communities and low-resource settings worldwide.

Harsh Patel, president of TeamMed, a student-led organisation that provides Monash students with opportunities to experience and contribute to global health, said one of the organisation’s aims is to provide direct engagement.

“We put a call out on Facebook to anyone interested in helping end preventable deaths by assembling life-saving, Clean Birth Kits designed to reduce maternal and newborn death in developing countries,” Harsh said.

“We enticed the attendees with the opportunity to hear Professor Michelle McIntosh speak about her Inhaled Oxytocin Project plus a bánh mì dinner before the packing began in earnest.

“It is our first in-person event since 2019, and it is a sell-out.”

TeamMed raised funds to purchase the birthing kit items by holding social events and conducting bake sales.

“This is an annual event for us, and while the packaging is a series of simple steps, the kits make a big difference to many women and babies,” Harsh said.

Nithya Thennakoon, a final year medical student, watched the BKFA video demonstrating how to correctly fold and fit all six objects into the zip lock bag.

“The simplicity of it is impressive, and the achievable results are amazing,” Nithya said.

Hilary Carruthers, assembly day coordinator at BKFA, said last year had been challenging due to the Covid-19 lockdown curtailing kit assembly events.

“Groups like TeamMed were unable to hold social events to raise funds and, of course, could not bring their members and volunteers together to do the packing,” Hilary said.

“To overcome that hiccup, we created a new initiative called Kits at Home.

“We only send out 40 bags to individuals or families who are looking for meaningful connection while practising social distancing.

“It is a great event to have to celebrate Mother’s Day or just a morning tea get together.”

The six disposable components are essential to support hygienic practices and environments during childbirth.

The soap is to wash the birth attendant’s hands and the mother’s perineum, while the plastic Sheet prevents the mother and newborn from coming into contact with the ground or an unclean surface.

Birth attendant’s wear gloves to protect themselves and the mother and newborn from infections such as HIV.

Some of the gauze wipes clean the mother’s perineum before giving birth, and the remainder clears the newborn baby’s eyes.

The sterile blade cuts the umbilical cord and reduces the risk of newborn tetanus and sepsis, and the cord ties finally and cleanly tie the umbilical cord.

BKFA has provided 2.4 million clean birth kits to women in need through community outreach programs, supplied to health facilities for use by doctors, midwives and nurses or distributed to traditional birthing attendants.

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Carol Saffer

Carol Saffer is an award-winning journalist enthusiastic about creating copy that engages audiences. She is curious by nature, possesses a growth mindset and thrives on new and unusual challenges. Carol has experience as a reporter for various regional Victorian newspapers and writing for Business Day in The Age. Her previous career was in the fashion industry, and she holds post-graduate degrees in business and journalism.

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