IMPACT
09/02/2015 08:46 am ET Updated Sep 02, 2015

Moms Turned Away From Birthing Centers In Uganda For Not Bringing Own Sheets

Here's who's helping.
Think Humanity

When a pregnant woman reached a Uganda clinic in 2009 prepared to give birth, she was abruptly turned away. The facility wouldn’t treat her because she didn’t have a plastic sheet with her.

The woman retreated to a bush where she and her baby were later found dead, Beth Heckel, founder of Think Humanity, told The Huffington Post.

Just getting to a clinic is challenging for woman in rural Uganda. But the process is often further exacerbated by the fact that these underserved women are expected to come with kits that ensure the delivery can be done in a hygienic way. If they don’t have them, they can’t get care.

Heckel learned of the struggles pregnant women in Uganda face while she was distributing mosquito nets in 2009 through her organization, Think Humanity. 

Expectant mothers receive birthing kits in Uganda.
Think Humanity
Expectant mothers receive birthing kits in Uganda.

A flustered pregnant woman approached Heckel at the time and told the maternal health advocate about her friend who had died while delivering in a bush. The woman explained to Heckel that the $5 birthing kits are simply unaffordable.

When Heckel returned to the U.S., she was determined to find a way to way to help these women give birth safely. She reached out to the Birthing Kit Foundation Australia to develop a partnership, so that women in need can get the very basics.

The group sent 200 kits, which Think Humanity first brought over to Uganda in 2010. The group then began collaborating with the Zonta Club of Fort Collins to get even more kits. 

Altogether, Think Humanity has collected 5,000 kits to date, Heckel said.

The kits, which are valued at about $3, are equipped with a plastic sheet, soap, gloves, a sterile scalpel blade, cords and gauze squares.

Think Humanity includes a plastic sheet, among other items, in the birthing kits it doles out at the group's clinic, to refug
Think Humanity
Think Humanity includes a plastic sheet, among other items, in the birthing kits it doles out at the group's clinic, to refugee camps and poor communities. The sheet helps to keep the delivery area sanitary to prevent infections. 

The sheet, which is composed of plastic that's used for heavy trash bags, is crucial because it’s the first line of defense against an unsanitary surface.

Such measures could play a significant role in reducing infant and maternal mortality rates.

In 2013, for every 1,000 live births, 44 newborns died in Uganda, according to the World Bank. That same year, for every 100,000 live births, 360 mothers died. 

Think Humanity doles out the kits at its own clinic in Uganda and partners with locals on the ground to dispense the birthing kits to refugee camps and poor communities, Heckel said.

The group makes sure to keep tabs on all the women who receive them. The women sign out for the kits and then share their progress, letting the organization know whether they experienced any complications and how both the mom and baby are faring, so that the group can ensure that the process and the materials are effective. 

“We want to know how the birth went,” Heckel told HuffPost. “We even get the names of the new babies.”

Learn more about Think Humanity and how you can get involved here.

CONVERSATIONS