Meet Zubaida Bai: An Indian Superhero Rescuing Rural Mothers
Zubaida Bai is obsessed with women’s health. In the last eight years, she has helped several women through her startup Ayzh and saved lives with a simple INR249 clean birth kit aptly called Janma
Why is her work relevant? More than 5 million mothers and infants die annually with over 80 percent of these deaths concentrated in 30 countries. Health facilities in low-resource settings lack access to essential supplies and infrastructure. Additionally, trained health workers need to deliver quality care and ensure a clean and safe birth. In fact, preventable infection is a leading cause of death and disability for mothers and newborns. The first 28 days of life remains critical as infant mortality is the highest in this period.
And Ayzh is helping to save lives of mothers with Janma, a Rs. 249 clean birth kit. The kit contains essential tools like an apron, sheet, hand sanitiser, antiseptic soap, cord clip and surgical blade to create safe and sterile conditions during child birth. It was co-founded by Zubaida Bai and her husband Habib Anwar.
The company was built on the premise that women’s health needs to be looked at through a different lens. It is named and spelt to sound like “eyes” to highlight the concept.
“As a company, we believe that the poor are willing to invest in their health and well-being, given the right products. We are a passionate group. Every single team member, including my husband, believes in our mission ─ to bring dignity to women’s health worldwide. We have a vision of impacting 1 billion mothers, girls, and newborns globally by 2030 , which is also a target of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As an organization, we are fairly horizontal in structure ─ each of us knows our skill-set and we work together to do what needs to be done,” says Bai.
Bai is a visionary, her ideas teetering between brilliant and difficult. “There have been stressful times with financial ups and downs. There was a particular moment, years ago, when my husband and I had exhausted all of our credit and our expected funding wasn’t coming through. We spent 48 hours in anticipation before everything got approved, and the money finally appeared in our account. We had three kids by then with no savings and zero credit. It was not an easy situation to be in. Also, in building a for-profit company in the maternal and newborn health world for the poor, you are in new territory. You can try, of course, to employ the best strategies but what matters is the emotional back-up and strength to overcome difficult circumstances. And if you don’t have that, you can’t survive in a business like this,” she explains.
At a TED event, she spoke of the importance of recognizing the needs of the community/patients and ability to take U-turns. “A lot of mothers that we interviewed early on had come across a crude version of clean birth kits. They would often ask me, ‘Would you use this to deliver your child?’ I realized these women need help. At the time, there was no specific design process or strategy to develop a product for women’s health. The reason is the expenses incurred in research and investigating the conditions. There are language barriers, India being a very diverse place. No one had done this work before. Given my background in engineering and product development, and the years I had spent in rural India scouting possible innovations, I began to investigate. I remember the moment in a hut in India where a midwife showed me the tool with which she cut the umbilical cord – it was a sickle used for cutting grass. That got my attention!” she notes.
Bai wants to create a movement that supports women’s health holistically. Over the past year, Ayzh has been promoting the idea that women’s health contains the entire reproductive health cycle. “It starts with menarche in girls and goes all the way through menopause. If we don’t create the educational opportunities and awareness, we will not make the progress we want to see. A lot of time and effort is being spent on reducing maternal and neonatal mortality. Meanwhile, the girls we talk to about our menstrual pads, and the young women giving birth with our kits often have absolutely no knowledge of their bodies, hygiene or infections. We need to reach these women early on, so they can learn about adequate and basic principles of care and hygiene. As a business model, we want to prove that we can provide different products under the same brand; a brand that understands a women’s needs and can serve her at different points in her life,” she says. In 2018, they are launching their operations in, Kenya, and their sanitary pads will be available in the United States.