Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage: From Evidence to Action

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By: Shafia Rashid, Senior Program Officer, Global Advocacy, Family Care International

The following was originally posted on FCI’s blog. It is reposted here with permission.

Around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange, where financial decisions of global importance are made every day, more than 50 obstetricians, midwives, women’s rights advocates, public health programmers, researchers, and policy makers from around the world gathered last week for discussions on a different, but equally momentous, subject. FCI, working in collaboration with Gynuity Health Projects, brought together this diverse group for a two-day meeting to help shape policy and advocacy on the use of the drug misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). In the developing world, uncontrolled post-partum bleeding is the leading cause of death in childbirth, killing a woman every five minutes.

In studies conducted by Gynuity and others, misoprostol has been shown to be a safe and effective medicine both for the prevention and for the treatment of PPH. While another drug, oxytocin, is generally recognized as the “gold standard” among uterotonic drugs for preventing or treating PPH, misoprostol has significant advantages for use in settings where maternal mortality is high and most births take place outside of hospitals: misoprostol is delivered in tablet form, and — unlike oxytocin — requires neither refrigeration nor intravenous administration. Earlier this year, misoprostol was added to the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines for the prevention of PPH, providing another opportunity to expand women’s access to this safe and inexpensive medicine. Misoprostol, originally developed for treatment of stomach ulcers, is also used for a range of reproductive health indications, including induction and augmentation of labor and medical abortion.

The New York meeting aimed to translate the scientific evidence on misoprostol’s safety and efficacy into effective strategies for expanding women’s access to misoprostol at the country level. After reviewing the scientific research, the global clinical and policy guidelines that shape the use and availability of misoprostol, and the strategies being used by misoprostol advocates and programmers, participants discussed opportunities, barriers, and challenges related to promoting greater access to misoprostol for PPH. Human rights experts framed how access to misoprostol is a human right enshrined in several international frameworks, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Presentations and discussions highlighted the need not only to drive policy change at the country level (e.g., getting misoprostol registered for this indication, including it on national essential drug lists, and incorporating it within national clinical norms and guidelines), but also to ensure that these policies are adequately implemented and funded so that they translate into real progress for women.

Presenters from Nepal, Kenya, and Ecuador shared lessons from successful efforts to achieve policy approval and expand distribution of misoprostol, and participants from countries including India, Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso, and Laos also contributed their experiences. These discussions included promising results from several countries where distribution of misoprostol tablets to women in their communities has proven effective in addressing the risk of hemorrhage among women who give birth at home — where more than half of births in the developing world still take place — with extremely low levels of diversion of the drug for other uses, incorrect dosage or timing of administration, or other signs of poor compliance. Attendees also learned about advocacy campaigns in related sectors, including emergency contraception, medical abortion, and the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer, and considered how those lessons may be applied to improving access to misoprostol for PPH.

Looking ahead, FCI will work with our partners to develop and implement an advocacy and communications strategy that will drive real progress in helping countries, health care providers, and women themselves address the leading cause of maternal death. Please stay tuned to The FCI Blog for more information as this exciting and important project moves forward.

To read FCI’s mapping report on advocacy for access to misoprostol, click here: Mapping_Miso_For_PPH.


To read about FCI’s work on misoprostol for PPH, click here.