NKOLE NKOLE, Lusaka
WHEN Muzalema Mwanza fell pregnant with her first child a year ago, she realised that many expectant mothers could not afford the birth kit items required for them to carry before delivery.
She also noticed that those mothers who could afford the items often did not manage to purchase every recommended one while pregnant.
Based on her experience, she decided to do something about it and started an organisation called Safe Motherhood Alliance, a social enterprise that provides, produces and delivers safe baby delivery kits to women in urban and rural areas and overall works to decrease infant mortality in Zambia.
In rural areas particularly, a lot of unsanitary methods are practised during the delivery of babies and where home births are commonplace. Often, unsterilised objects are used to cut the baby’s umbilical cord after birth, leaving it at risk of infection.
According to UNICEF, home deliveries in Zambia are high at 53 percent and only 47 percent of births are attended by a skilled health worker at health institutions. UNICEF also states that communities in rural areas have limited access to health care and it is estimated that in urban areas, approximately 99 percent of households are within five kilometres of a health facility, compared to 50 percent in rural areas.
“That led us to think of what we could do in our little space as entrepreneurs to make the process of acquiring birthing kits more convenient and accessible for expectant mothers especially in rural areas,” Muzalema explained.
She collaborated with co-founder, Mable Majula to make a baby delivery kit; a simple, clean and hygienic pack for pregnant women that they could carry to the hospital in preparation for delivery.
This reduces the fuss and inconvenience of moving from pharmacy to pharmacy in search of delivery items, or borrowing items from fellow expectant mothers at the hospital during delivery.
In the event an expectant mother has an emergency and cannot reach a hospital but must deliver at home, the kits help her do this in a safe and hygienic way.
Home births normally occur when hospitals are located far away and inaccessible to expectant mothers and are conducted under the supervision of traditional birth attendants or midwives. The alliance is also seeking to empower traditional birth attendants because of the role they play in home deliveries.
In Lusaka, they have worked in Kanyama, Matero and Chipata townships while trying to work with other clinics as well.
Muzalema and Mable have also been working with the Ministry of Health to develop the kit and prototype. The ministry helped with the conceptualisation of the kit and approved its design.
Last month, the two entrepreneurs pitched the concept behind Safe Motherhood Alliance during an entrepreneurship bootcamp hosted at the Lusaka, based technology hub, BongoHive and scooped the top spot which came with an award of US$1000 worth of seed investment.
The company operates as a sustainable, business model which is a non-profit but does not solely depend on donor funding or charity.
“We realised that to keep the model sustainable it would have to generate some sort of income of its own,” Muzalema shared.
While the kits retail for K120 at the moment, Muzalema and Mable are trying to find ways to subsidise their cost to make them affordable for low income communities where the greatest need for them exists.
One of the judges during the BongoHive pitch event where the alliance emerged winner was Dr John Fay who is Managing Director of VITALITE Zambia Limited, a social enterprise developing household energy solutions for Zambia and beyond.
Prior to the pitch event, the biggest challenge the organisation faced was distribution. The hospitals and clinics are only a channel the organisation uses to get to the expectant mothers but are not used as distribution points where the kits could be purchased.
“We had these kits but how to get them into the different communities was a challenge. Logistics was always an issue. VITALITE has come on board and want to partner with us so that we can use their hubs located in different areas and women can purchase the kits from VITALITE stores,” Muzalema explained.
At the hospitals and clinics, the alliance speaks to women about safe birth practices which they should perform before and after birth, sensitises them on HIV/ AIDS and also teaches them the importance of vaccination.
The company is further developing fortified soya beans as a new product targeted at reducing malnutrition among children in rural communities.
The products that are added to the kit are made by local manufacturers and the alliance organises local women to assemble the kits in preparation for sale.
“We call these groups that help us arrange the kits Safe Motherhood Action Groups and it is like an income stream for the women as well,” explained Muzalema.
Every product contained in the kit is manufactured in Zambia at the moment.
When an expectant mother attends antenatal classes, she is given a list of items to purchase in preparation for delivery.
Muzalema and Mable used this very list to decide which products to add to the kit when creating it.
“We have made the job of the pregnant woman easier. We took that list and we got all the items on that list and packed them in the kit,” Muzalema said.
Since the organisation was registered last year, they have prepared around 100 kits and also donated kits to expectant mothers in special circumstances. These are usually teenage girls with no financial backing given their vulnerable status.
Muzalema, a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow says the alliance now wishes to partner with people and organisations that can take its vision and mission forward.