A Comprehensive Approach to Maternal Health Commodities

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By: Safia Ahsan, Senior Health Systems Advisor, Ipas

This post is part of a blog series on maternal health commodities. To view the entire series, click here.

As the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, there is growing recognition that improving supply availability of maternal-health commodities will help to reach the global target for reducing maternal deaths. Many public, private, and nongovernmental organizations have therefore joined together to increase the production, distribution, and utilization of affordable, high-quality, high-impact commodities.

This collective effort has initially focused on oxytocin, misoprostol, and magnesium sulfate. Improving availability of these commodities is critical to reducing maternal deaths due to postpartum hemorrhage and eclampsia. However, we now also have a prime opportunity to address women’s needs throughout the continuum of pregnancy. This includes the provision of safe abortion services and management of incomplete abortion and miscarriage, as well as drugs to treat sexually transmitted infections and contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies. Addressing the full continuum of pregnancy will more substantially contribute to achieving MDG 5 and will better serve the practical needs of women, families, and communities.

Most global and country-level systemic barriers to supply availability of high-quality and affordable oxytocin, misoprostol, and magnesium sulfate are not unique. They are commonly shared with a broader set of maternal-health commodities. These barriers are in the areas of commercial availability, health system supports, financing, and supply management. So, when tackling specific barriers, why not advocate and work to overcome those barriers for all life-saving maternal-health commodities, rather than just for a few?

Organizations active in the field of maternal and reproductive health are increasingly focusing on reducing deaths from unsafe abortion.  The newly released Safe abortion: technical and policy guidance for health systems (WHO 2012) estimates that about 22 million pregnancies annually are terminated unsafely. It is estimated that 47,000 women die each year due to complications of unsafe abortion. “The Essential Interventions, Commodities and Guidelines for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health,” issued recently by WHO, Aga Khan University, and The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH), recommends the use of vacuum aspiration equipment, misoprostol and mifepristone for the management of unintended pregnancy, through post-abortion and safe abortion care. Misoprostol and mifepristone are also included in the WHO 2012 List of Priority Life-Saving Medicines for Women and Children and the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.

In order to address MDG 5 in a comprehensive and sustainable manner, we must address the health-care needs of women throughout their pregnancies. Through such a comprehensive approach, we can more effectively partner with health ministries, program implementers, and donors to serve the interests of women, families and communities.