COMMENTS: Pay the Midwife

ABC has assigned Bill Weir to a global feature series entitled Key to the World to fill the expanded newshole on its four low-commercial Mondays. Last week, Weir went to the Pacific island of Kiribati. This time, it is the village of Chikankata in rural Zambia where a lack of basic healthcare means a high infant mortality rate, not to speak of frequent childbirth deaths for mothers. A woman there may have six babies, Weir observed, because "she hopes three will survive…Parents wait a week before naming their babies so they do not grow too attached." Most are born in a dusty village or by the side of a road. Sometimes sawgrass is used to cut the umbilical cord.

Weir showed us CBKs: Clean Birthing Kits consist of the rudimentary tools--soap, gloves, razor, clamp, a sheet of plastic--for sanitary childbirth. Health officials used to give them away but soon discovered that pregnant women value them more highly, and are therefore more likely to use them, if they have purchased them for 60c from a midwife. And the mark-up the midwife charges helps her stay in business.


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