Basic medicines, contraceptives, and other health commodities can save millions of lives, but only if people can access them.
A thousand women die needlessly every day from preventable or treatable complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Every year more than 7.6 million children die before reaching their fifth birthday, from preventable and treatable conditions like diarrhea and pneumonia: a child who lives in a poor country is about 18 times more likely to die than one who lives in a wealthier country. And the family planning needs of 215 million women who want to prevent or delay pregnancy remain unmet — meeting this need would prevent 53 million unintended pregnancies and 100,000 maternal deaths every year. Too often, affordable, effective medicines and health supplies do not reach the women and children who need them most.
To address these gaps, UNICEF and UNFPA today launched the Commission on Life-saving Commodities for Women and Children, with a mandate to improve access to essential but overlooked health supplies. President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway will serve as founding co-chairs of the Commission, with UNICEF Executive
Director Anthony Lake and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin serving as its vice-chairs. The launch announcement said that the Commission will “focus on high-impact health supplies that can reduce the main causes of child and maternal deaths, as well as innovations that can be scaled up, including mechanisms for price reduction and supplies stability.”
Much of FCI’s work focuses on “building the evidence base” on reproductive, maternal, and newborn health, in order to expand access to lifesaving medicines, commodities, and services. Included on the initial list of 12 essential, overlooked medicines and health supplies identified for consideration by the Commission are two medicines that have been focuses of FCI’s advocacy work:
- Misoprostol for post-partum hemorrhage (PPH): The Commission aims to ensure that all women, at the time of delivery, have access to medicines that cause the uterus to contract — or uterotonics — in order to prevent or treat the post-partum bleeding that is the leading cause of maternal death in the developed world. The most commonly-used uterotonics are oxytocin and misoprostol, both of which are on the Commission list. In collaboration with Gynuity Health Projects, FCI has been working on a multi-year project that aims to increase understanding, use, and acceptance of misoprostol for PPH in low-resource settings. Research has shown that misoprostol is safe and effective for preventing and treating PPH, and is particularly useful in settings without refrigeration, electricity, IV therapy, and skilled health providers. Unlike oxytocin, misoprostol can be delivered in tablet form, and is temperature stable, so it does not have to be refrigerated or delivered intravenously.
- Emergency contraception (EC): EC is one of a suite of three particularly overlooked family planning commodities, also including female condoms and contraceptive implants, identified for Commission discussion. FCI serves as host organization for the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC), an alliance of non-governmental organizations working to expand access to emergency contraception (EC), with a focus on developing countries. FCI and our colleagues in ICEC and in the broader reproductive health community worked together during the preparatory work prior to the Commission’s launch to ensure that it re-affirms the critical role of family planning in averting maternal and newborn deaths and the importance of ensuring access to EC and other contraceptive methods that are neglected, underutilized, and orphaned.
FCI welcomes the launch of the Commission, and looks forward to working closely with it and with our advocacy and program partners to ensure its effectiveness in improving access to misoprostol, emergency contraception, and other essential health supplies.