Making connections: Ensuring access to reproductive and maternal health supplies

Shafia Rashid is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International. This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

The past ten years have witnessed impressive gains in the availability and use of reproductive health supplies like condoms and oral contraceptives that allow men and women to safely and effectively prevent or space pregnancies. As a result of concerted efforts by many partners, contraceptive prevalence rates have risen over 60% in countries around the world.

These dramatic successes in improving access to reproductive health supplies can shed important lessons and guidance for those working to ensure that life-saving maternal health medicines — including, oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate — are available to all women, when they need them and wherever they give birth. These medicines — which can save lives by preventing or treating the leading causes of maternal death — remain out of reach for many women, particularly for poor, rural, indigenous and other vulnerable women. Many countries lack clear, supportive policies and adequate budgets to make essential maternal health medicines widely available, or have weak supply chains and logistical systems. Inadequate regulatory capacity, poor quality of medicines and lack of information and guidance on correct use are other barriers to access.

In order to summarize lessons learned and provide concrete tools to improve access to maternal health supplies, the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition tasked Family Care International to create seven policy briefs that show policy makers and program managers real-world examples of successful interventions. Importantly, there is a brief dedicated to each of the three most critical maternal health supplies: oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate. Other briefs cover the cross-cutting issues of policy and financing, supply and demand generation.

Lessons learned from successful efforts to improve access to family planning commodities can help to effectively address the challenges related to maternal health medicines. Family planning advocates have, for example, tracked government expenditures on reproductive health supplies: in Indonesia, budget analysis and concerted advocacy led the mayors of five districts to increase their family planning budgets by as much as 80%. Similarly, many countries — including Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay — have established contraceptive security committees that bring together multiple supply chain stakeholders to support coordination, address long-term product availability issues and reduce duplication and inefficiencies. These committees have advocated for increased financial support for contraceptives, improved inventory management, developed standard operating procedures, published reports and provided technical assistance. These efforts to increase budgets and ensure commodity security for contraceptives can be effectively adapted and expanded to improve financing and security for maternal health supplies as well.

A wide range of tools and resources can support countries in strengthening their forecasting, procurement and other supply chain functions. Tools originally developed with a sole focus on reproductive health supplies now include or can be adapted to apply to maternal health supplies as well and can be used by country managers working to improve the supply of maternal health medicines.

Finally, many countries are moving toward integrating their supply chains to include family planning commodities and other essential medicines, including medicines for maternal health. In Ethiopia, for instance, the government (with the support of in-country partners) integrated their supply chain to include all health commodities and to connect all levels of the supply chain with accurate and timely data for decision-making. In Nicaragua, where the supply chain was separated vertically by health issue and type of commodity until 2005, the health ministry has integrated the essential medicines system with the contraceptives’ supply chain and has now fully automated the system and expanded it to include all essential medicines.

There are many parallels and potential synergies between reproductive and maternal health supply chains and processes. The reproductive and maternal health communities must take the following actions to address the interrelated barriers that prevent access to and use of life-saving commodities:

  • Advocate for development and implementation of supportive policies at the national and sub-national levels,
  • Advocate for dedicated budget lines to enable monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation
  • Improve government systems and procedures for procuring high-quality medicines and maintaining their quality throughout the supply chain
  • Invest in a streamlined, coordinated supply chain across sectors and levels, reducing inefficiency and duplicative efforts
  • Strengthen the knowledge and skills of health providers so that they are aware of evidence-based policies and guidelines and can effectively administer these essential medicines

More information can be found in Essential Medicines for Maternal Health: Ensuring Equitable Access for All, a set of briefs that highlight challenges and strategies for increasing the availability of these maternal health medicines and identify linkages with reproductive health supplies. You can download the Essential Medicines for Maternal Health policy briefs in English, French and Spanish.

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