Zubaida Bai is the founder and CEO of ayzh, one of TOMS’ Safe Birth Giving Partners. She is also the creator of the Clean Birth Kit in a Purse and is widely regarded as an expert and leader in the field of engineering design for low-cost women’s health products customized for the developing world. This Mother’s Day, we asked Zubaida to share her personal story and ties to maternal health in India. We’re inspired by her story and are eager to work with ayzh to help make childbirth safer for women in developing countries.
Read on, as Zubaida recounts her story…
Growing up in Chennai, I was exposed to the social and economic hardships women face in India. I saw women around me whose potential was not being recognized, and I was lucky enough to have a partner who saw the same situation growing up. I have always wanted to find a way to give back to rural women, who have so little to call their own. This motivated me to get an engineering degree and follow it up with a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering (product development and design) from Sweden.
I was traveling in India and thinking about where I could make a real difference in women’s health and livelihood and found myself striking up a conversation with a midwife in Rajasthan, a rural area. We sat in front of her hut, and I remember she kept her cows right there, too. I asked her, “What are the tools you use in your childbirth practice?” She stepped into the hut and pulled out a sickle — the curved farm implement for cutting grass. She was using this to cut the umbilical cords. This was a 360-degree mind shift moment for me. First, sitting there, I think, how does this ugly tool even get close to a pregnant woman? And then I reflected back on my own birth experience with my first child, where I contracted an infection and suffered with it for over a year. I thought if this could happen to me with the best of care, what chance do these mothers and babies have?
When I met the midwife, I was already working in product engineering, but was frustrated that good quality products never seemed to get into the hands of those who needed them the most. The birth kits being used looked very crude and barely sufficient. The product designer in me asked, how could I improve on this? Also, these kits were being put together a few at a time by different groups, not addressing the great need on a large scale. And there was certainly no such product available in the marketplace.
My husband and I decided we would start our own company called ayzh that would identify and create products that directly help women. From there, we also both decided to earn our MBA in Global, Social and Sustainable Enterprise so we could bring them along to commercial viability. We launched our first product — JANMA, which means “birth” in Hindi — a Clean Birth Kit in a Purse to prevent infection at the time of childbirth.
Our challenge is to help people see that a healthy mom and baby create an economically sustainable community. Healthy mothers can work, and mothers with healthy babies can accomplish more and help others in the family. Health allows everything else to happen.
In a developing country like India, people are used to medical care that isn’t up to standard. Health care workers are stretched so thin. We have to focus on making better care easy and accessible to both mothers and the health care workers.
Perhaps an even bigger challenge is encouraging communities to adapt new practices. Many are used to their traditional birth practices, which can often lead to infection. For rural communities, the cause and effect link is often unclear. A dirty delivery room or a dirt floor is all they have ever seen or known, and losing babies or mothers in childbirth, or shortly after, is just part of life. There is no discussion of the emotions around this illness and loss, and no health care workers who have the training and time to sit and talk to the mother about her feelings.
This low-cost intervention at birth seems so basic and obvious to me. And this first medical interaction can be at the root for all that comes after it. The health worker should be empathetic toward the mother and should feel good about the service she is offering: a basic bed, clean conditions for delivery and the right practices.
These are the dreams and goals of ayzh. And as we are approaching Mother’s Day, I would like to add that I am the proud mother of three boys. Being a mother is central to who I am and what I do. People often think having three small children as well as running a business is so difficult, but watching my boys grow makes me refreshed and gives me the energy to keep going.