The High Cost of Birth

Sobe Makomo, 32, is a nurse practitioner and head of the medical department at the Corpmed Medical Centre in Lusaka, Zambia.


When I was preparing for the birth of both of my sons, I packed a “birthing bag” that sat ready by the door to be scooped up and loaded in the car at the first ping of labor pains. It included what I considered necessities at the time: 

• Camera
• Birth plan
• Baby’s coming home outfit
• Matching receiving blanket
• Photo-acceptable pajamas for mom
• Lamaze refresher guidebook and snacks for my husband

In many low-resource countries expectant moms also prepare for birth by packing a bag or what is called a “birthing bucket.” It’s not optional -- it’s required if you want to deliver your baby at a health facility. In Zambia, a birthing bucket includes: 

• The actual bucket
• Medical gloves
• Disinfectant/bleach
• Cord clamps
• A piece of fabric
• Baby blanket

According to Tiny Tim and Friends (TTF), Lusaka’s only dedicated pediatric HIV/AIDS organization working with vulnerable children and orphans, the average cost of a birthing bucket is about $27 (U.S.). The average Zambian makes less than $1 a day, making the cost of giving birth unaffordable for many women.

As a result, many expectant mothers living with HIV are forced to deliver their babies at home without assistance from skilled health care professionals.  This increases the risk of transmission of HIV to the unborn child because conditions are unsterile and there are increased risks of complications at birth.  Additionally, women who deliver at home are less likely to take the recommended medications that would decrease the chance of transmission of HIV to their unborn child.

The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) donated blankets for “birthing buckets” to a health clinic in Lusaka, Zambia. The hand-made quilts were sewn by the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Saint George Orthodox Church in Bethesda, Md.

At EGPAF we’re dedicated to creating an AIDS-free future and that starts by making sure that women around the world can deliver their children in safe facilities. We will continue our work until no child has AIDS.

Join us.

Racine Tucker-Hamilton is EGPAF's associate director of media communications and editorial services, based in Washington, D.C.