WaterAid India at Simhastha Kumbh 2016

Thumbnail WaterAid/ Anna Kari

This Women’s Day, WaterAid unveils what mothers-to-be like to take to hospitals in their maternity bags.

Depending on where in the world they are giving birth, the items women choose to take to the hospital might be life-savers, or simple luxuries. WaterAid photographed and interviewed women internationally – from the UK, the US and Australia, to India, Malawi, Zambia and Madagascar.

It was interesting to notice the stark contrasts between maternity bags ranging from life-saving necessities like sterile razor blades, soap, boiled water and torches to stress-relieving luxuries like iPads and massage oils. The project highlighted that different choices made by women shockingly depends on whether they can rely on there being clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) when they give birth to their baby.

The Simhastha Kumbh Mela, a religious gathering on the banks of the river Kshipra in the city of Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh took place from 22 April to 21 May 2016.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Meet Pushpalatha Sahoo, 34 years, who lives in a slum near Puri in the state of Odisha and is in the eighth month of her pregnancy.

Given the huge influx of people over a relatively short period of time it was a challenge to ensure that safe water, sanitation and hygiene
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

What women carried in their maternity bags differed depending on whether they are delivering the child in a rural or urban setup, in a private or public healthcare facility, and largely on the financial condition of the family.

A key concern was possible prevalence of open defecation around the areas where pilgrims will be staying in large numbers if the toilets provided were not sufficient to cater to the demand.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Pushpalatha has packed bottles in her maternity bag. “I need to carry boiled water with myself when I go for my delivery as there is no safe water at the health centre. Also, the toilets are not good for pregnant women as I find it difficult to squat in a narrow toilet and there is not enough water also.” Other items in her maternity bag include one towel, five food vessels, one glass, one spoon, two sarees, one soap, one blanket, and one cloth. WaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli


WaterAid India partnered with the Mela Organising Committee with the support of Ujjain Municipal Corporation and the Madhya Pradesh
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Agnes is 22, and is in the Kiomboi Hospital at Iramba District in Tanzania. This baby will be her third child.

Thirteen balloons were floated near the toilet complexes to guide people to the nearest toilets during day and night.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

In her maternity bag she has clothes for the baby, blanket, socks, a basin, a flask and tea. Better access to water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities is crucial for mothers and babies to stay healthy.

Our stall at the Datt Akhara zone near the main bathing site was always bustling with WASH awareness activities and games.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Sepsis, meningitis and tetanus are all infections linked to unhygienic environments and kills thousands of newborn babies annually. With no safe water at the clinic where she’ll be giving birth in Monze district of Zambia, mom-to-be Hazel has packed a basin to wash with.


It drew people in large numbers who were keen to know more about WASH.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

She has packed black plastic to lay on during her delivery, to try and reduce the risk from unclean sheets.

We conducted games and screened movies to make people aware on why WASH matters.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Other items in Hazel’s maternity bag, include a baby blanket, cotton wool, a sarong, a baby suit, a basin to wash with and a roll of black plastic.

Our display walls were installed at various strategic points in the mela areas to engage people and sensitise them on important issues
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

In Melbourne, Australia Katy has stuck closely to the list of items the hospital recommends for giving birth, including toiletries, snacks and massage oils to help her relax.

We did not miss the opportunity to sensitise women on menstrual hygiene management (MHM) through our canopy stalls.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

“The hospital has kept me very well informed and I feel I’m in a good position in terms of knowing what to expect,” she says.

Using our posters on menstruation taboos as talking points our team explained to women/adolescent girls about safe menstrual hygiene management.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Katy’s maternity bag contains toiletries, snacks, hats, socks, mittens, baby clothes and swaddles, night dresses, maternity underwear, maternity pads, nursing pads and massage oils.

On May 12 we launched the ‘Loo with a view’ toilets.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

In the UK, there are two important items in Joanna’s maternity bag: her medical notes and the blanket her mum gave her, to bring her new baby home in.

The Loo with a View toilets have a one-way mirror on the door. A person inside using the toilet can look outside, but to those outside, the door is simply a mirror.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

“My sister suggested bringing something to make it easier to drink water during the labour, so I have packed a water bottle. I will bring it empty — I’m assuming the hospital will have somewhere I can fill it,”she says.

The toilets were an instant hit and people queued up to use and experience them.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Joanna’s maternity bag contains nappies, baby clothes, knitted trousers, snacks, a towel, clean clothes, toiletries, a TENS machine to help with pain, maternity pads, an iPad, a water bottle, medical notes and a blanket.

A street theatre group also performed short interactive skits at the different Mela sites over the period of the Simhastha to engage and inform the visiting pilgrims on issues of sanitation, hygiene and the link between WASH and health.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

“We selected a hospital which has all facilities like clean and hygienic toilets and safe water so that we could ensure a safe birth for our child. I never thought about it before but not having safe water or a private toilet when I’ll be at the hospital for giving birth is unimaginable for me,” says Swarnali Gogoi, from Noida, Uttar Pradesh. WaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

WaterAid India also set up a bio-digester toilet technology at the community toilet in the Dani Gate area in Ujjain.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

India is one of the most populous countries in the world, with 327 million women of childbearing age, and 26 million children born every year. WaterAid believes in giving mothers, their newborns and their families a brighter start and a better future: simply through clean, safe water, proper toilets and better hygiene. WaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

WaterAid India will continue to work in Ujjain and support the Municipal Corporation and government in making the city open defecation free by 2018.
WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

Swarnali’s maternity bags has diapers and toiletries, socks and blankets for her new born, maxi pads for herself and a baby receiving blanket. She had not even thought about packing water as she was confident that the private hospital she had selected would have all the necessary WASH facilities. WaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

Check out our press release on how water, sanitation and hygiene affect what mothers-to-be pack in their maternity bags.