What Are “Healthy” Markets and How Do They Contribute to Healthy Mothers?

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By: Erin Seaver, Market Dynamics Advocacy Officer at PATH

As we approach the final days of the Millennium Development Goals, maternal mortality remains an unfinished agenda. Too many women around the world continue to die from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth each year.

In recognition of this unfinished agenda, the World Health Organization recently released Strategies toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM), which calls on all countries to reduce maternal deaths by at least two-thirds of their 2010 baseline by 2030.

As a key strategy, the report emphasizes increasing women’s access to maternal health products around the world. To support this, we must better understand the dynamics of the health care markets in which lifesaving maternal health medicines and tools are delivered.

What is market dynamics and what is a “healthy” market?

Market dynamics is often defined by experts as the interactions between actors on both sides of supply and demand that determine how products are bought, sold, delivered, and administered. This includes how manufacturers produce high-quality health products; how countries and donors procure such products; how distributors deliver them on time and in the right quantities; how health care practitioners administer the products; and most importantly, how people become and remain aware, educated, and proactive in improving and maintaining their health through these products.

Many may be quick to assume that access to a health product is mostly dependent upon price, but in reality, it is determined by a whole host of factors that can be especially challenging in low-resource parts of the world.

Take a moment and think about the last time you visited you doctor or drug store to obtain a medication. Was it available within a reasonable time frame? Was it affordable or covered by health insurance? Was it easy to use or did it require a companion device? Did you have concerns about its quality? Most importantly, was the product effective and did it meet your needs?

In low-resource settings, health products are not always available, or can be too expensive, of uncertain quality, or unusable due to poor design. Even worse, several of these issues may coexist at once.

These characteristics—availability, affordability, quality, acceptability, and secure supply and delivery—are the measures of “healthy” markets for health products. Without careful attention to each of these characteristics, crucial medicines and health tools fall out of reach to those who need them most. In other words, the health of people—especially mothers and their newborns—is inextricably linked to the “health” of the market that delivers necessary lifesaving products.

Harnessing the power of markets to save mothers and children

The global health community is increasingly monitoring market characteristics to identify opportunities to shape market structures to increase access to lifesaving products to improve health and save lives.

At PATH, we are committed to expanding access to products that protect mothers and their babies from preventable death and illness. Throughout our 40-year history, we have worked with a range of public and private sector partners across the spectrum of product development and delivery to address market dynamics for vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and medical tools and devices with the goal of improving access to high-quality, lifesaving health products.

Successful market-shaping efforts have already improved access to vaccines, antiretroviral drugs, and—more recently—contraceptives. As shown by the EPMM report, however, there is much to be done to improve global and local markets for maternal health products. Local and regional market shaping for uterotonics (medicines used to induce labor and reduce postpartum hemorrhage), for example, could result in improved availability, affordability and quality of oxytocin and misoprostol to save mothers’ lives.

Harnessing the power of markets is fundamentally about harnessing the power of people—working within and across sectors, collaboratively, transparently, and toward mutually beneficial goals—to ensure that mothers, babies, families and communities survive and thrive.

To reach the goal of ending preventable maternal mortality, we must strive for a better collective understanding of market dynamics and support efforts to shape healthy markets for essential, lifesaving health products. Healthy markets can and should lead to healthier mothers and a healthier world.

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