How to Send Clean Birth Kits to Zambia

Thank you for all of the interest in Bill Weir's report on infant mortality rates in Zambia, as part of the "World News" series "Key to the World."

Here are answers to a selection of your questions:

Question: Thank you for your eye opening report on saving babies in Zambia. It seems like such a small, inexpensive way to save the lives of so many. I am looking for an organization in Cleveland that may be assembling these packages or where I can purchase the items and where to mail them. What other ways can we be of help?

Answer: The Health Ministry in Zambia is looking into ways people can donate kits or the ingredients, and we'll pass that info along soon. In the meantime, UNICEF is leading the charge. If you write "Zambia birthing kits" on a check sent to UNICEFUSA.ORG, 333 E. 38th St., New York, NY 10016, it will do some good.

Question: Bill, I am a college student in Wisconsin who was in Zambia this past summer. I was just wondering where the village you went to was and what organization handed out these kits? Zambia is an amazing country, I hope to someday go back. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I had. -- Erma28

Answer: We went to villages in and around Chikankata. UNICEF and the U.N. Population Fund are helping lead the way, and the Salvation Army has an amazing health center there. I share your sentiment. It was life-changing.

Question: I was so moved by your report on Zambia. Having been an obstetrical nurse for over 20 years, the percentages of a better outcome for mother and baby from a simple "birthing kit" was amazing and even more so because of its simplicity. What was the reason that the women used the kits more when they paid for them? I found that to be such a sharp contrast from the many patients I have encountered who are always seeking freebies. It was mentioned that they need more "hands" and are using volunteer midwives. Is medical help welcomed if the workers are from other cultures? Thanks for your reply and congrats on such an eye-opening report. -- levylady1

Answer: This is a real eye-opener in the world of foreign aid. Even in the most dire circumstances, people prefer a "hand up" rather than a "hand out." Relief supplies are always welcome, but in an effort to break the cycle of poverty and empower the people, there must be a value system in place. It's been shown that free mosquito nets don't get used nearly as much as ones that cost a few pennies.

Step 1 is convincing these women that a clean birthing kit is incredibly valuable to their own survival, but just handing them out undermines that message. And if the midwives who use them add a tiny surcharge, they can afford more kits and help more women. This is why "microfinance" is such a hot topic; tiny loans to the poorest people give them a much better chance than a one-time handout.

Question: As I am amazed that any of these birthing mothers have the 60 cents to pay for the kits, I am moved to write you for details how to make donations for making kits available at a lower cost or on a sliding scale. This way those who do not have the money would not be forced to take unnecessary chances. … Like the woman who delivered her baby with just two items from the kits. Please help with accessing this information. Again thanks so much for this news item.

Answer: The Zambia Health Ministry is doing just that -- a sliding scale that helps bring the cost down to a reasonable level for these villagers. A donation to the address above should help assemble the kits. But they will be sold to the women in order to foster that sense of pride and ownership.