By Adepeju Jaiyeoba, founder and CEO of Mother’s Delivery Kit.
This post was originally posted on the PATH blog, as part of a series called Local Brilliance: Women leading global health innovation, featuring scientists and leaders who are saving lives and improving health for women and girls in their countries and communities.
2011 was the year destiny called.
That year I lost a very close friend to childbirth complications. Her death put a face on every maternal and child death statistic I had heard. She was educated and brilliant, and she sought out health care services during her pregnancy. Yet she became one of the 13 women who die daily during childbirth in Nigeria. The health care system had failed her and her unborn baby.
Confronted by the loss, I could have chosen to sit still and remain docile as a citizen while I continued to wait for health care to improve in Nigeria. I had many valid excuses to justify inaction. I had just spent six years training for a career as a lawyer, and I had no experience in the workings of health care or how to improve services for expectant mothers. However, my passion to create change was greater than my desire to make excuses.
The facts were simple. Death at childbirth is very common in Nigeria. Everyone knows someone—an aunt, sister, cousin, niece, neighbor, coworker or, in my case, a friend—who has died at childbirth. I was determined to take actions that would increase the odds of women and babies surviving at childbirth.
Driven by passion, I founded a nonprofit called Brown Button Foundation that focuses on training and building the capacity of birth attendants across rural communities in Nigeria, where nearly two-thirds of births occur without a properly trained attendant. I knew that having a skilled attendant present during birth can reduce newborn deaths by 43 percent and prevent over two-thirds of maternal deaths.
But even with better-skilled care during birth, I came to understand that the challenge of preventing maternal and child deaths is multifaceted and also demands the right medicines, tools, and supplies at the right time to prevent deaths. In rural Nigerian communities where health facilities can be miles away and many women give birth at home, helping women access lifesaving supplies they need at childbirth is a missing link and a Herculean task.
I’ve witnessed what happens when women don’t have access to sterile supplies at childbirth. I’ve seen umbilical cords severed with rusty blades, increasing the chances of neonatal tetanus. I’ve seen mothers giving birth on bare floors, risking deadly sepsis infection. And I’ve seen how the odds are transformed when women have access to the right health tools and technologies.
That’s why I founded Mother’s Delivery Kit, a social enterprise venture that supplies innovative kits containing affordable, sterile supplies across rural communities in Nigeria, connecting a mother to the lifesaving supplies she needs during childbirth.
Today, Mother’s Delivery Kit is in 30 out of the 36 states in Nigeria and has reached more than 50,000 women and babies.
Our incredible journey has, in part, been thanks to support from the US government. I was able to receive critical business education and global health experience to grow my business through the US Young African Leaders Initiative’s Mandela Washington Fellowship exchange program. And a $25,000 grant from the US African Development Foundation helped us set up storage facilities and strengthen supply chain lines for delivery, so we could get more kits into the hands of more moms more quickly.
And now, as a PATH Innovation Champion for advocacy, I will have the opportunity to receive training and support to speak publicly about the challenges facing women and children in low- and middle-income countries and the vital role of health technologies in helping women and girls survive and thrive.
My experiences inspire me and challenge me to do more:
- Every time I see a midwife try to remove mucus with her mouth from the nostrils of a newborn to prevent asphyxia (a problem solved by a US$.50 piece of equipment), I remember the baby who suffered asphyxia at birth and ended up with cerebral palsy.
- Every time I see a girl miss school because of her period and the lack of appropriate tools to manage it, I remember how girls are dropping out of school, low on self-worth, ashamed of their own bodies, deprived of opportunities and a chance to realize their own dreams.
By raising my voice as a PATH Innovation Champion for those women who have no voice, I hope to campaign for funding and policies so women can access lifesaving, female-centered innovations; encourage support for female innovators; advance simple community-centered solutions; and ultimately work to ensure that every mother has the chance to watch her baby grow and every baby has a chance to live up to their full potential.
With innovative programs focused on giving women a voice and improving access to the health care they need, clearly, better times are ahead for women.
Jaiyeoba will speak about health innovation and the role of women innovators on June 15 in Washington, DC, at The Innovation Effect event hosted by PATH and partners.