Dialogue on Public-Private Partnerships to Save Women’s Lives

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By: Priya Agrawal, Executive Director, Merck for Mothers

I recently returned from the Global Maternal Health Conference and have now had a chance to reflect on a fantastic week of high-energy, detailed discussions of how to deliver quality care for women. I moderated a panel entitled “Merck for Mothers: A Dialogue on Strategy and Programs”. The session was relevant and timely because many at the conference were talking about the need for more public-private partnerships to help speed up progress towards Millennium Development Goal 5 – so it was great to see it was so well-attended.

Merck for Mothers is Merck’s 10 year, half-billion-dollar initiative to join the global effort to reduce maternal mortality. From the outset we have been mindful of the need to listen and learn from experts and those on the front lines of the fight against maternal mortality. Leading academics, foundations, NGOs, and multilateral agencies have been incredibly generous in sharing their insights to help inform our strategy. So the session was a brilliant opportunity to come back to the maternal health community and continue the dialogue we started nearly two years ago, get feedback on our progress so far, and discuss new approaches and bright ideas as our programs get underway.

Some of the highlights of the lively discussion include the following:

  • Why aren’t life-saving technologies reaching women in need? Paul LaBarre, of the non-profit PATH, gave an eye-opening presentation on the need to better understand the hurdles limiting appropriate use of technologies to prevent and treat post-partum hemorrhage and preeclampsia. As Paul said, the solutions are within reach, but we need to educate providers about essential medicines, ensure their availability and potency and make administration easier– issues identified repeatedly throughout the conference. Paul and I want to invite you to participate in a survey on this subject, which should take no more than 5 -10 minutes to complete. The deadline for responses is February 8th and participation is anonymous.
  • What role can the local private sector play in delivering quality maternal health care? Ratnesh Lal, representing MSD India, offered some fascinating insights on the state of private care in India – in particular, that more than half of the poorest households are utilizing private health services. He also talked about how economically sustainable social franchise networks, provider accreditation, and mobile technology have the potential to improve the quality, affordability, and accessibility of maternal health care for up to 2.5 million pregnant women.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the public health sector is similarly overburdened and when women reach a health facility they are often faced with a lack of trained health workers and poor infrastructure. So it was interesting to hear from Dr. Dorothy Balaba about how the Program for Accessible Health, Communication and Education (PACE), a local affiliate of Population Services International and Merck partner in Uganda, is working to increase skilled birth attendance (which at the moment stands at only 42%), get local pharmacies to offer more information on safe motherhood, and is exploring a community-to-facility emergency transport system. Dorothy spoke convincingly about the need to “grab hold of the opportunity” offered by the private sector to improve the quality and affordability of maternal health care.
  • How do we measure the impact of public-private partnerships? Professor Oona Campbell, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, gave an excellent overview of some of the key features and challenges involved in evaluating maternal health programs, including the importance of building-in evaluation from the start and the process for selecting metrics to measure impact. The London School is a world leader in maternal health and impact evaluation, and we are delighted that they will be evaluating Merck for Mothers’ programs.

There were some really insightful, candid discussion with the audience as well, including on how to strengthen our evaluation process and plan for achieving impact. Overall, it was an incredibly valuable session and I know many of the ideas and perspectives shared will continue to guide us as we embark on additional programming this year. We greatly appreciate the input of the maternal health community and look forward to continuing to work with our partners to test out new approaches and explore new ways to help advance the global effort to reduce maternal mortality. In the words of the inspirational Dr. Fathalla: yes we can!

For more information on Merck for Mothers visit: www.merckformothers.com

To take part in PATH and Merck’s survey,click here.

Learn more about the conference and access the conference presentations at www.gmhc2013.com.

Join the conference conversation on Twitter: #GMHC2013