The Adelaide-developed Birthing Kit Project, which saves the lives of thousands of babies and mothers all over the world, has won the inaugural Zonta International District Service Award.
The Birthing Kits are used in rural areas of developing nations where women cannot hope to attend a clinic to give birth under medically hygienic conditions.
More than 1.25 million kits made in Australia have been delivered since the project began in the Adelaide Hills in 1999, when a group of local women made 100 kits to send to Papua New Guinea.
The kits hold all the essentials needed to provide a clean birthing environment – a sheet of plastic, soap, gloves, scalpel blade, cords and gauze in a small press seal bag that is held in the palm of your hand. It is so simple yet it can save a woman and baby’s life.
Since then the kits have been sent to over 30 developing countries where they are typically distributed by traditional birthing attendants.
Birthing Kit Foundation (Australia) Director and National Zonta Birthing Kit Project Coordinator Julie Monis-Ivett attended the Zonta International Convention in Orlando, Florida, where the awards were made.
“To be nominated was an honour - to win was just amazing and mind blowing as we had been approaching Zonta International about our project since 2000,” Dr Monis-Ivett said. “It was wonderful for Zonta Clubs in Australia and the Birthing Kit Project to be recognised in front of over 1,500 attendees at the convention.”
BKFA Executive Director Fiona Smith said that the Foundation fills an important niche, as the policy of the World Health Organisation and United Nations approach is that all women should be able to give birth in a clinic with medical supervision.
“Government policy is to persuade people not to use traditional birthing attendants,” Ms Smith said, “but for many women it is not even remotely possible to travel to a clinic because of conflict or their location.”
Besides ensuring a hygienic birth for mother and child, BKFA also supports training programs that include education about harmful birthing practices at the grassroots level and promote sustainable cultural change.
“In Ethiopia we have worked with partners to educate whole communities about the dangers of harmful practices, one benefit being the cessation of female genital mutilation,” Ms Smith said. “We have discovered that educating the men is so important. Previously ‘women’s business’ has been somewhat hidden from them.
“Young girls are taken away from community and come back and there was not much knowledge about what happened when they were away. But if you can get men as well as women to understand and accept the need, then change can happen.”
To encourage sustainability, the BKFA has funded over 130,000 kits being made in countries where the local people learn how to source their own supplies.
In just one example of the difference the project is making, BKFA partner Dr Luc Mulimbalimba Masururu organised an expedition to Mulenge in South Kivu province DR Congo in 2013. Thirty carriers transported all the food, bedding, educational goods and birthing kits required up the side of a nearly inaccessible mountain for two days each way. Here four teachers taught 100 Pygmies how to help in childbirth and gave them information on nutrition, hygiene, vaccinations, how to stop transmission of HIV, and when to refer a pregnant woman down the mountain to a health post for help.
Here in Australia, BKFA is always on the lookout for people who want to organise an “Assembly Day” which brings groups together to make the kits.
The fee is $3 per kit with a minimum of 200 to be made, which donates $600 to the cause. All the components and instructions are supplied.
“We also have education programs in schools,” Ms Smith says. “The students learn while making the kits that one person can make a difference.
“It is very simple. We believe a clean and safe birthing environment should be available to every woman.”
Worldwide, the Zonta organisation has over 30,000 members and 32 districts in 66 countries.
An Assembly Day will be held on Saturday, September 6, from 1.00pm. organised by the Adelaide Hills club that stared this project. Contact Doone on 0402 024 240 if you are interested. ##