For over three years, I have been a part of World Moms Blog, an amazing group of women writing about motherhood around the globe. These women have become some of my closest friends and I have been incredibly honored to work with them as a part of World Moms Blog, ONE Women and Girls, and Shot@Life. This week we are supporting CleanBirth.org, an organization started by one of our contributors, Kristyn Zalota, to make birth safer in Laos, one of the worst places on earth to give birth.
In the rural areas of Laos where almost 70% of the population live, access to life-saving health care is sparse and many people live in remote, mountainous areas that are hard to reach posing challenges for expectant mothers. Per the World Health Organization, Laos ranks 21st out of all countries in the world in terms of the highest maternal mortality rates. The 2010 statistics are 470 maternal deaths out of 100,000 live births which is worse than Afghanistan. Infant mortality rate is not much better. Laos comes in as the 33rd highest with a rate of 54 deaths out of 1,000 live births (2014).
Given such high maternal and infant mortality rates and the lack of available health care for expectant mothers, the training of midwives, transporting the midwives to attend rural births and access to sterile birth kits is critical to saving lives. This is where Kristyn Zalota, an American mother and founder of CleanBirth.org saw an opportunity to step in and make a difference.
What is so amazing about Kristyn’s story is how she saw a problem half-way around the world and decided to change it. As an avid traveler and a doula, Kristyn saw firsthand through her visits in the developing world how many mothers and children die during childbirth from simply lacking a safe, sterile birth. Inspired to make a difference Kristyn began CleanBirth.org and three years later she has seen remarkable results and has saved many lives.
I chatted online a little bit with Kristyn to learn more about what inspired her to start CleanBirth.org and what her aspirations are for the future.
Tell me about your background. What inspired you to start Clean Birth.org?
I have a MA from Yale University in international affairs and have worked in the US, Russia, England and Thailand. My most rewarding experiences were actually unpaid volunteer jobs: on the Thai-Burma border, in Cambodia, Uganda and Nicaragua. These projects led me to my true calling: advocating for maternal health in Laos.
Since you founded Clean Birth.org, what has been the greatest success?
Improving communication between our partner organization staff and CleanBirth.org. We have spent 2014,breaking down whatever cultural barriers were preventing each side from understanding what the other needed or found important. By bringing in a volunteer consultant who specializes in Monitoring and Evaluation, we developed clear goals and expectations of our partner and they of us.
What has been the hardest moment/experience?
We were confronted this summer with nurses who had the kits for one year saying “The moms are still birthing alone.” Since a birth helper is critical to the kits being used properly and hygienically, this was a real problem. What did we do? We talked about it. We listened. And ultimately we came up with what we hope will help. The people in some of the districts have a traditionally held fear of touching blood. That is why they don’t want to help at birth. The nurses suggested that if we added a pair of gloves to the kits, for cultural not hygienic purposes, the gloves may provide an acceptable blood barrier.
Why Laos? And are you hoping to expand?
I chose Laos because I had lived for nearly two years in Thailand and had traveled in Laos extensively. I was comfortable in the region. When I learned that Laos had the region’s highest rates of maternal and infant mortality I knew I had to try to help. We will stay in Salavan Province, Laos for the foreseeable future. We hope to significantly impact birth safety and mortality rates in this one area.
Where do you hope to see Clean Birth.org in the next five years?
I hope that we will be doing what we do now: Listening to what the nurses need to make birth safer and giving it to them. I see CleanBirth.org providing training to nurses, funding training of ethnic minority midwives and deepening our partnerships so that we can have the biggest impact.
Tell me some of CleanBirth.org’s accomplishments?
In 2014, CleanBirth.org provided 2,000 birth kits. Our nurses conducted 762 educational sessions with mothers before birth. We trained 88 nurses and staff. We received zero reports of infection. We did this on a budget of $20,000 with no paid US staff.
How can people help?
Spread the word and consider donating. A small donation of only $5 provides a mother with the hygienic birthing supplies she needs to make birth safe. The nonprofit also trains nurses to teach mothers about safe birthing practices.
For the next three weeks, CleanBirth is running a campaign to try to raise $10,000 for providing birthing kits and midwife training in Laos this March. Please consider contributing to this great cause by donating here. Only $5 Saves 2 Lives.
Donate what you can. No amount is too small! $5 Saves 2 Lives.
Thank you Kristyn for inspiring us all to make a difference!