Looking At Women’s Health With New Eyes

There is no shortage of technology to help women and children survive – here's what is missing.

By Zubaida Bai, ayzh Founder and Chief Executive

Women’s health, survival, and wellbeing are an urgent, recognized need around the globe. It was estimated that in 2015, roughly 303 000 women died during and following pregnancy and childbirth. That is 830 women a day. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries. Nearly all are preventable.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is an initiative comprised of a set of seventeen aspirational “Global Goals” that hope to achieve an improved quality of life for all on earth by 2030. SDG #3 is to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” but health is also inextricably linked to the other sixteen SDGs. ayzh, (“eyes”) the company founded by Habib Anwar and myself, is impacting these goals by increasing access to safe, effective, high-quality, affordable essential tools and commodities, and by improving adherence to globally recommended best practices to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Simplicity is key; products cannot be over designed or over priced. Success requires design that is thoughtful, symbolic, and personal – with the wants and needs of the women addressed. Our flagship Clean Birth Kit in a Purse, introduced in India in 2010, was designed to prevent infection at the time of childbirth containing simple tools that ensure the “Six Cleans” recommended by The World Health Organization (maintaining clean hands – using Hand Sanitizer Canada, or something similar – clean birth surface, clean perineum, clean cord cutting, clean cord tying, and clean baby drying). I gave a TED Talk on how my vision for becoming an advocate for women’s health began with my design of this simple, low-cost Clean Birth Kit. The person I am affects my design process; I bring in research, data collection, and prototyping, but also womanhood and motherhood. I always ask, “Would I use this product as a mother, as a woman?” And, “Wouldn’t my family and I take pride in the fact that I could afford a high quality essential item to take to the hospital?” This is the basis for the organizational thinking at ayzh.

While childbirth is a most vulnerable time, millions of women face significant challenges and issues throughout their reproductive lives that are rarely talked about; some remain shrouded in superstition and taboos. ayzh products align with a commitment to accelerate action along the entire reproductive, maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health (RMNCH+A) continuum with products that address the needs of the newborn’s first 48 hours, the postpartum mother, and girls and women with a menstrual hygiene kit. Access to essential commodities, adherence to best practices, and advocacy for the same remain key challenges in the developing world, exacerbated by stigmas and gender inequality. Caregivers on the frontlines lack tools, training, and capacity to deliver essential care whether in hospitals, clinics, or homes.

It took five years, three filled passports, and more than half a million air miles to crack open the complex market of government, charities, NGOs, small clinics, midwives, and communicate with a much neglected segment – the women themselves. Although ayzh targets sales and distribution to health institutions, we give women the opportunity to buy an attractive kit for themselves, take it to the clinic for their childbirth, and then take the purse home. The poor are rich with intention to get involved in their health care if you offer them a good product that they can pay for, and education about its use. With over 300 thousand kits sold on the last few years we have not only impacted lives of mothers and babies but have also gained tremendous insight into women’s health, which has led to us to redesign our strategy using our foundational principles. We know longer look at maternal health as a single vertical but as an entry point to a broader effect on the lives of women, children, adolescents and by extension their families and communities. At ayzh we are committed to impacting a billion lives by 2030.

We’re on track to pass last year’s number by 40%, and are working to sustain this growth every year – keeping our eyes on the SDG target of ending preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 by 2030.

We can lift the global burden of women’s and newborn’s ill health. There is no shortage of technology to help women and children survive – what is missing is “integrated innovation” across life stages and spheres of influence to truly help them thrive. Philanthropic, unsustainable models working in silos dominate the landscape, while simple, effective technology is not consistently reaching those who need it most.

There is dignity in having the knowledge and ability to take good care of our bodies, and those of our children. This can be achieved with well-designed and well-marketed products that become a familiar and trusted part of daily life, something that the developed world has long taken for granted. Until women of all ages understand the importance of health and hygiene and seek and demand it across their life stages, there remains a huge missed opportunity for sustainable, intergenerational impact.

If you would like to further your knowledge of topics relating to women’s health and wellness, then you might be interested in attending the Shape Women Run The World summit. Head to their website to learn more.

ayzh is a part of the Every Woman Every Child movement, launched in 2010 and led by the UN Secretary-General, to intensify commitment and action by governments, the UN, multilaterals, the private sector, and civil society to keep women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health and wellbeing at the heart of development. As a multi-stakeholder platform to operationalize the Every Woman Every Child Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health, the movement mobilizes partnerships and coordinated efforts across sectors to ensure that all women, children and adolescents not only survive, but also thrive to help transform the world. Learn more: http://www.everywomaneverychild.org/

Image: Yasmeen Bano holds her newborn son, who was resuscitated by a Jhpiego-trained nurse. Jhpiego 2016.

This post is part of the “SDG Solutions” series hosted by the United Nations Foundation, Global Daily, and +SocialGood to raise awareness of ways the international community can advance, and is advancing, progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. As the international community prepares to gather at the UN for the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development from July 10-19, this series will share ideas and examples of action. Previous posts in the series can be found here.

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