Calling for an integrated approach to maternal and newborn health: Strategies toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality

Amy Boldosser-Boesch is Interim President and CEO of Family Care International. This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

Next week at the 68th World Health Assembly, the Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM)Working Group — led by WHO in partnership with Family Care International (FCI), the Maternal Health Task Force, UNICEF, UNFPA, USAID, the Maternal Child Survival Program, and the White Ribbon Alliance — will launch its much-anticipated report, Strategies Toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality (EPMM). For FCI and our partners, this report presents an important opportunity to highlight the critical linkages between the health of a woman and that of her newborn baby. Continue reading “Calling for an integrated approach to maternal and newborn health: Strategies toward Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality”

New advocacy tool: briefing cards on SRHR and the post-2015 development agenda

Amy Boldosser-Boesch is the Interim President and CEO at Family Care International. This article originally appeared on the MDG456Live Hub, curated coverage of women and children during the UN General Assembly.

SRHRAs we move into the intergovernmental negotiations for defining the post-2015 development agenda, continued advocacy will be needed to link sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) to sustainable development. Do you have the talking points you need to make the case that governments must ensure the comprehensive inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights within the post-2015 development framework?

A new tool Briefing Cards: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda can help. The briefing cards detail the linkages between SRHR and other key development issues including environmental sustainability, gender equality, economic growth, educational attainment, and broader health goals. Produced by FCI, with support from the UN Foundation, and co-authored by partners in the Universal Access Project, each one page card provides advocates with succinct arguments and key Facts at a Glance about the impact of SRHR on the broader development agenda. Each card also includes recommendations for inclusion of SRHR in the post-2015 development framework in a cross-cutting way, for example, by encouraging targets and indicators that address and measure the strong connections between girls’ education and their sexual and reproductive health and rights. All of the partners involved in developing the Briefing Cards hope that they will be a useful tool for advocates worldwide working to shape the social, economic and environmental aspects of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. The cards are available for free download; please share them with your partners and help us make the case with governments and other stakeholders in the post-2015 process that sexual and reproductive health and rights are integral to the achievement of all shared development goals.

For more information, please email contact[at]familycareintl.org or womenandgirls[at]unfoundation.org

 

 

 

To reduce death and ensure health, The Lancet launches Midwifery Series

By Katie Millar

Katie Millar is a technical writer for the Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF), where this article originally appeared. 

Today, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, The Lancet launched its newest series Midwifery. This series provides concrete actions for stopping preventable maternal and newborn death and ensuring perinatal health. The knowledge that midwives are key to preventing perinatal death is not new. However, scaling up the utilization of midwives on a systems level is lacking, which has prevented this solution from becoming a reality.

The Midwifery Series was created to provide concrete guidance and frameworks on how to utilize midwives and a new standard of care for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care (QMNC). At the center of this model of care are the needs of women and their newborn infants. Even though the needs of women across the world seem to differ greatly, this series clarifies that no matter where a woman lives, care led by a midwife is the answer to ensuring health. The series comprises four separate papers which were created by a multidisciplinary group, including academics, researchers, advocates for women and children, clinicians, and policy-makers. This multidisciplinary approach is necessary for addressing current gaps in perinatal care.

The current maternal and newborn health landscape often offers fragmented solutions and interventions to address the needs of women and their newborns. This fragmentation is a barrier to adequate perinatal care. These gaps in care lead to 98% of the annual 289,000 maternal deaths, 2.6 million stillbirths, and 2.9 million neonatal deaths. In order to mitigate these preventable deaths, improvements in the quality throughout the continuum of care and emergency services are imperative. The series supports a whole-system approach to improving perinatal care by ensuring skilled care for all.#2 FOR EVERY WOMAN AND EVERY NEWBORN CHILD

The Lives Saved Tool (LiST) was used in the series to model different levels of scale-up of essential interventions for reproductive, maternal, and newborn health (RMNH) which are within the scope of practice of a midwife. In low-resource settings even a 10% increase in the interventions covered by midwifery would decrease maternal mortality by 27%. Therefore, more rigorous scale-up could have an incredible impact on reducing maternal mortality.

The standard for QMNC presented in the series is globally applicable as it not only focuses on the scale-up of essential interventions, but also the harmful effects and necessary mitigation of over-medicalization of birth and perinatal care. Professor Petra ten Hoope-Bender, of the Instituto do Cooperación Social Integrare, Barcelona, Spain, said, “Although the level and type of risks related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum and the early weeks of life differ between countries and settings, the need to implement effective, sustainable, and affordable improvements in the quality of care is common to all, and midwifery is pivotal to this approach. However, it is important to understand that to be most effective, a midwife must have access to a functioning health-care service, and for her work to be respected, and integrated with other health-care professionals; the provision of health care and midwifery services must be effectively connected across communities and health—care facilities.”

In order to assist the development of health systems and their integration of midwives, the series provides three new tools:

  1. The Framework for Quality Maternal and Newborn Care is applicable to all countries on not only what needs to be implemented, but how to implement strategies to reduce maternal, neonatal, and infant mortality and morbidity, improve quality of care, and increase efficiency of health systems.
  2. Country diagrams can be used to identify the most important elements required to strengthen a country’s health systems to provide quality midwifery services.
  3. Pragmatic steps provide a guide to initiate or further develop their midwifery services.

Midwives not only provide care at the time of birth, but work with women from before their pregnancy through their newborns infancy to prevent death and ensure health. This life course approach is essential for having a large impact on the needless numbers of deaths and morbidities. Check out The Lancet’s Midwifery Series for more details on how midwives will make a large difference in the lives of women and their children in the coming years as the post-2015 agenda is implemented.

To learn more visit the official website of the Midwifery Series and follow the conversation on twitter by following @midwiferyaction and #LancetMidwifery.

Forgotten women: UNAIDS, PEPFAR, and ‘keeping mothers alive’

Ann Starrs is president and co-founder of Family Care International. This article has been cross-posted on RH Reality Check, the Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report, and the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

Two years ago, in July 2011, UNAIDS  launched a joint initiative with PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, to help achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation. The ambitious, if clumsily named, “Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive” included two global targets:

  • Reduce the number of new HIV infections among children by 90%
  • Reduce the number of AIDS-related maternal deaths by 50%

Today, UNAIDS and PEPFAR released a new report on progress in this important initiative. The report and accompanying press release highlight the very welcome news that seven countries (Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia)have reduced mother-to-child-transmission of HIV by 50% or more, with two additional countries (Tanzania and Zimbabwe) close to achieving that rate of reduction.

UNAIDS, PEPFAR, and all of their global and country partners deserve sincere congratulations for this tremendous accomplishment, achieved in a relatively short span of time. Progress toward the Global Plan’s first target has been truly impressive.

But their report almost completely ignores the plan’s second target, and in fact the second part of its long title — “…and keeping their mothers alive.” Perhaps a more accurate title for the initiative, at least as reflected in this report, would have been “Global plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children, and keeping their mothers alive just as long as they are pregnant or breastfeeding  (but after that, not our concern…)”

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit too harsh. But in the report’s 15 pages of text, there is at best one glancing reference (being generous) to the fact that women with HIV who are eligible for treatment should receive antiretrovirals because they have a right to treatment for the sake of their own lives and health. And the target for reducing maternal deaths is not even mentioned in the report’s text (though, to be fair, it is included as an indicator in the country profiles that make up the second part of the report).

What gives?

Well, the report makes it clear. “Many more women,” it states, have access to antiretroviral medicines to reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their children  than four years ago [my emphasis, here and below].” And again, “Special attention is needed in all countries to ensure access to and retention on antiretroviral medicines for pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV to cut these numbers of children acquiring HIV infection.” The report betrays, alarmingly, a view of women exclusively as bearers and feeders of children.

It does, at a couple of points, vaguely acknowledge that women’s lives have value even when they are not carrying or breastfeeding babies.  “The number of women acquiring HIV infection has to be reduced,” the report states, “and all women living with HIV eligible for antiretroviral therapy must have access to it for their own health.” But this commitment, for which many advocates have fought long and hard, must be translated into concrete action to prioritize ARV treatment for HIV-positive women who are not pregnant, or who have finished breastfeeding. Too often, still, these women do not have access to the life-saving medicines they need, or are dropped from programs when they no longer qualify through their children.

The report does, thankfully, acknowledge the significance of access to family planning as a means of preventing unintended pregnancy, and thereby of preventing infants from being born with HIV:

Reducing unmet need for family planning will reduce new HIV infections among children and improve maternal health. Increasing access to voluntary and noncoercive family planning services for all women, including women living with HIV, can avoid unintended pregnancies. Family planning enables women to choose the number and spacing of their children, thereby improving their health and wellbeing.

Kudos to UNAIDS and PEPFAR for being forthright about this crucial element of PMTCT programs, even though family planning is still far too rarely included in HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

But in other respects, the agencies need to do better, both in their programs and in the messages they send through reports like this one. Michel Sidibé and Eric Goosby, the heads of UNAIDS and PEPFAR, have both, in many speeches and statements, acknowledged the importance of women, and the right of women living with HIV to get ARV treatment for their own health. This report should have reflected that awareness, and that principle (as, for instance, this one in 2012 did). I hope and expect that the next progress report for the Global Plan will include a clear discussion of the link between HIV infection, maternal mortality, and women’s health more generally, and what the agencies are doing to address it.

The Connection Between Healthy Mothers and Healthy Newborns

by Gary L. Darmstadt, France Donnay, and Ann Starrs

Gary Darmstadt and France Donnay are, respectively, Director of Family Health and Senior Program Officer, Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Ann Starrs is president of FCI. This post first appeared on Impatient Optimists, the blog of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, on June 3, 2013.

This month, the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine published a special issue that sheds new light on the indissoluble links between the health of a mother and that of her newborn baby. Its release comes just weeks after the Global Newborn Health Conference, and simultaneously with a State of the World’s Mothers 2013 report revealing that a baby’s first day is the most dangerous of its life.

That interconnections exist between maternal and newborn health is well known. Most maternal deaths are caused by the woman’s poor health before or during pregnancy, or by inadequate care in the critical hours and days during and just after childbirth; the same is true for most newborn deaths. And when a woman dies after giving birth, her death is far too often followed by the death of her newborn baby. And we know, based on substantial evidence, which interventions are best for improving maternal health and saving women’s lives, and which are effective for improving newborn survival.

What we didn’t sufficiently understand, until now, was the range of interventions that bring health and survival benefits to both mother and newborn. In this new study, a research team from Aga Khan University in Pakistan, working in collaboration with Family Care International and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, looked at more than 150 interventions, assessing them for impact on both maternal and neonatal outcomes. They then grouped the interventions into “packages of care” that can be effectively delivered at each of the key levels of care: community, health center, and hospital.

This study advances our knowledge in important ways. It reinforces the widely-recognized benefits, for women and their babies, of high-quality antenatal care, skilled birth attendance, and postpartum care, which are still too often insufficiently, ineffectively, or inequitably delivered. It highlights the crucial role of family planning, which can be used to delay and space pregnancies. It identifies a number of areas — including management of preconception diabetes, treatment of maternal depression, and community-based approaches for improving birth preparedness and care-seeking — which are currently neglected but could significantly improve maternal and newborn outcomes.

Most importantly, the findings send a clear message: that greater integration of maternal and newborn care — and, more broadly, of services across the reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) continuum of care — is one of our most promising strategies for strengthening efforts to save women’s and children’s lives.

This kind of integration may sound like an obvious step, but it is not always easy. Integration of services is critical if countries are to make substantial progress towards national health goals. It forces policy makers, donors, program managers, and health workers to find common ground among their varying constituencies, goals, and agendas; to understand the needs of women and their babies in new and different ways; and to design services that respond to these needs. It requires that the physical, financial, and human architecture of the health system be designed and constructed to efficiently and equitably deliver high-quality services across the continuum of care.

And yet, Progress on reducing maternal and newborn deaths has been too slow, and far too many women and babies die every day. Recognizing and acting on the crucial interconnections between maternal and newborn health revealed by this study, and the broader linkages that tie together the RMNCH continuum, can help save the lives of millions of women and children. The time to take action is now.

Placing women at the center: Rethinking the RMNCH continuum of care

Ann Starrs is FCI’s president, and is a founding member and former co-chair of the board of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH), of which FCI is  a leading advocacy partner. In this post, cross-posted on the PMNCH website, Ann reports on the Global Maternal Health Conference 2013, which took place in Arusha, Tanzania on January 15th through 17th.

Last week’s Global Maternal Health Conference (GMHC), held in Arusha, Tanzania, was both inspiring and sobering. Twenty-five years after the Safe Motherhood Initiative was launched at an international conference held in neighboring Kenya, maternal mortality has finally begun to decline, and there are many and diverse examples of how countries are addressing the challenge of preventing deaths of women and newborns from complications of pregnancy, childbirth, and the postnatal period. But as the conference highlighted, huge challenges remain — in improving the quality of care, the conference’s core theme; in strengthening the functionality and capacity of health systems; in addressing major inequities in access to care, within and across countries; and in ensuring that maternal and newborn health receives the political support, increased funding, and public attention that it needs.

The majority of the conference’s breakout sessions featured informative and often fascinating presentations on research findings and promising programmatic and technical innovations. One session, however, took a different tack — a debate on “Has the ascendance of the RMNCH continuum of care framework helped or hindered the cause of maternal health?”  I proposed this session to the Maternal Health Task Force, which organized the GMHC, because for me and the organization I head, Family Care International, maternal health has been at the core of our institutional mission since we planned the first Safe Motherhood conference in 1987. For much of the past decade, however, I have been closely involved with the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (PMNCH) and Countdown to 2015, two coalitions that are dedicated to promoting an integrated, comprehensive approach to the reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) continuum of care. Have our efforts to define and advance the continuum of care framework contributed to progress in improving maternal health? If so, how much? If not, what can be done about it?

These questions were debated by a stellar panel I moderated, which included Wendy Graham, Professor of Obstetric Epidemiology at the University of Aberdeen; Marleen Temmerman, the new head of the Department of Reproductive Health and Research at WHO; Friday Okonofua, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Benin, Nigeria; and Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of The Lancet, as well as a fantastic and diverse audience. (You can view a video of the entire discussion here.) To start the discussion I shared the definition of the continuum of care that PMNCH has articulated, based in part on the World Health Report 2005: a constellation of services and interventions for mothers and children from pre-pregnancy/adolescence, through pregnancy, childbirth and the postnatal/postpartum period, until children reach the age of five years. This continuum promotes the integration of services across two dimensions: across the lifespan, and across levels of the health system, from households to health facilities. Key packages of interventions within the continuum include sexuality education, family planning, antenatal care, delivery care, postnatal/postpartum care, and the prevention and management of newborn and childhood illnesses.

It is, of course, impossible to conduct a randomized control trial on the impact of the RMNCH continuum of care on maternal health, so the discussion was based more on perceptions than on hard evidence. Nevertheless, there are a few data points to consider in debating the question. From an advocacy perspective, panelists generally agreed, the adoption of the continuum of care framework has helped the cause by appealing to multiple constituencies related to women’s and children’s health. Attribution is always a challenge; there are many other developments over the past 5-7 years that have also had an impact, such as the two Women Deliver conferences held in 2007 and 2010 (with the third one taking place in May of this year). But participants generally agreed that linking women’s and children’s health, and defining their needs as an integrated whole, has appealed to policy-makers and politicians on an intuitive and practical level, as demonstrated by the engagement of heads of state, celebrities, private corporations, and other influential figures.

Let’s look at the money: during the period 2003-2010 overseas development assistance (ODA) has doubled for MNCH as a whole, according to Countdown to 2015 (Countdown’s analysis did not look at funding for reproductive health, but a new report later in 2013 will incorporate this important element). Maternal and newborn health, which are examined jointly in the analysis, have consistently accounted for one-third of total ODA, with two-thirds going to child health. Given the significant funding that GAVI has mobilized and allocated for immunization over this time period, the fact that maternal and newborn health has maintained its share of total MNCH ODA is noteworthy.

And let’s look at how maternal health has fared within the UN Secretary General’s Every Woman Every Child initiative, launched in September 2010: a recent report summarizes each of the commitments made to Every Woman Every Child in the two years since it was launched. Of the 275 commitments included, 147, or 53%, had specific maternal health content. If we look at the commitments according to constituency group, developing country governments had by far the largest percentage of commitments that had specific maternal health content — 84% — compared to 39% for non-governmental organizations, 24% for donors, and 52% for multilateral agencies and coalitions. Clearly, maternal health has not been marginalized within the continuum from a broad policy, program and funding perspective, despite the fear some had expressed that it would be pushed aside in favor of child health interventions that are perceived as easier and less costly to implement.

Another benefit of the continuum of care framework, as noted by Dr. Okonofua, has been increased collaboration among the communities that represent its different elements. While there were tensions and rivalries when PMNCH and Countdown were first established, especially between the maternal and child health communities, today groups working on advocacy, policy, program implementation, service delivery, and research within the continuum generally work together more frequently, cordially and effectively than they did before, especially at the global level. PMNCH and Countdown, as well as Every Woman Every Child, have brought together key players to define unified messages and strategies that have achieved widespread acceptance.

That was the good news; but panelists and participants at the session also saw a number of problems with the continuum of care concept. The concern articulated by Richard Horton, and echoed by many of the session participants, was that the continuum views women and adolescents primarily as mothers or future mothers. This narrow view contributes to a range of gaps and challenges; it means crucial cultural, social and economic determinants of health and survival, including female education and empowerment, are not given adequate weight. Gender-based violence deserves much more attention, both for its own sake and for its impact on maternal, newborn and child health. Politically sensitive or controversial elements of the continuum, especially abortion but also, in some cases, family planning and services for adolescents, may be neglected in policy, programming, and resource allocation.

The fragmentation inherent in the continuum of care also contributes to what Wendy Graham called the compartmentalization of women. As Countdown’s analysis of coverage has demonstrated, the continuum of care doesn’t guarantee continuity of care; coverage rates are much higher for interventions like antenatal care and child immunization than for delivery or postnatal/postpartum care. Women’s needs for a range of interventions and services, available in a single health facility on any day of the week, are not being met in many countries.

Other concerns that emerged during the discussion were that the RMNCH continuum of care framework does not explicitly or adequately reflect the importance of quality of care, which in turn depends on a range of factors: skilled, compassionate health care workers, functional facilities, adequate supplies and equipment, and an effective health information system that tracks not just whether interventions are being provided, but also whether individual women and their families are receiving the care they need throughout their lives.

Dr. Okonofua, in his comments, focused on how the continuum of care concept has been implemented, or hasn’t, in countries. The implications of the continuum of care for on-the-ground program implementation have not been fully articulated and communicated; more effort, he noted, needs to be invested in making the concept relevant and useful for policy-makers, program managers, and service providers.

Despite these gaps, however, participants in the session – and the panelists themselves – agreed that the continuum of care is a valid and valuable concept, and that the inadequacies identified should be addressed. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said one member of the audience. The continuum of care, as a concept, has already evolved; initially, for example, it did not fully integrate reproductive health elements. As Marleen Temmerman commented, the continuum of care concept is a tool; what is important is what is done with it.

As 2015 approaches, the global health community is struggling to articulate a health goal for the post-2015 development framework that will resonate widely and guide accelerated, strategic action to prevent avoidable deaths and improve health of people around the world. The RMNCH community — or communities — needs a framework that more fully reflects the realities and complexities of the lives of women and children, and that enables us to reach out to other health and non-health communities, including HIV/AIDS, NCDs, and women’s rights and empowerment, for a common cause. To do this, we need to revise the continuum of care framework to maximize its relevance and utility for countries, and to incorporate the following missing elements:

  • Recognition of the importance of quality of care
  • Responsiveness to the needs of girls and women throughout the life cycle, not just in relation to pregnancy and childbirth
  • Links to the cultural, social and economic determinants of women’s and children’s health

Richard Horton’s call for a manifesto to emerge from the GMHC included 10 key points; redefining the RMNCH continuum of care was one of them, inspired by the panel. The challenge has been issued; it is now up to us to meet that challenge.

Healthy Mother, Healthy Newborn

There is ample evidence illustrating that the health of a woman and her newborn baby are intimately connected. We know that:

  • most maternal and newborn deaths are caused by the mother’s poor health before or during pregnancy or due to inadequate care in the critical hours, days, and weeks after birth
  • when a woman dies in childbirth, her newborn baby is less likely to survive

Recent research conducted by Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta and colleagues at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan confirms what we already know, and goes one step further: it identifies which maternal and newborn health interventions benefit both mother and newborn. These include:

  • Family planning/birth spacing: Family planning, including counseling on and provision of contraceptive methods, prevents unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion, and increases spacing between births. Adequate birth spacing (between 18-23 months) reduces the risk of maternal and newborn-related deaths.
  • High-quality antenatal care: Antenatal care provides a critical window to address a range of health care needs, such as treating HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and providing counseling and educational support. Well-designed, good quality ANC reduces the risk of preterm birth, perinatal mortality, and low-birth-weight infants
  • Detection and management of maternal diabetes: Treating maternal diabetes (through dietary advice, glucose monitoring, and insulin) reduces maternal and perinatal morbidity, specifically antenatal high blood pressure and neonatal convulsions.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life: The benefits of breastfeeding for the mother are both short- and long-term. In the short term, she is likely to recover more rapidly from the birthing process. It also has a significant impact on reducing the risk of breast cancer. For the newborn, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is recommended for optimal growth, development, and health.

This research is a critical step in better understanding just how deeply interconnected are the health of a woman and that of her newborn baby. It also underscores how vital it is to interconnect health care for women and their newborns — to promote greater efficiency, reduce costs, limit duplication of resources, and achieve greater impact.

As part of efforts to promote investment in and implementation of health interventions that can save the lives of both women and their newborn babies, FCI developed two publications summarizing the findings from this research and its impact on advocacy, policy, research, and programming:

  • A pocket card for non-technical audiences including policy makers, health officials, and civil society groups.
  • An Executive Summary for program managers and implementers working in low-resource settings.

With only three years remaining until the 2015 deadline for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this year will be a critical moment for efforts to improve global health. Because the health-related MDGs — and particularly MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality) and MDG 5 (Improve maternal health) — are furthest off-track, advocates, researchers, programmers, and policy makers must work together to develop, support, and implement effective, integrated policies and programs.

Forgotten But Not Gone: Childhood TB meeting brings together advocates to combat the global childhood TB epidemic

Amy Boldosser is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

Many people, including advocates who work on maternal, newborn and child health, may be surprised to learn that tuberculosis (TB) is the third leading killer of women of reproductive age worldwide and that globally over 1 million children become sick with TB each year. In fact, one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with TB. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria that often attack the lungs but may also spread to the brain or other areas of the body. TB is spread through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even laughs. Children are at particular risk for contracting TB due to their weaker immune systems and are likely to become infected if their mothers are sick. Vulnerable children, such as those whose families are living in poverty, who are orphans, or who already have HIV or other diseases, are even more susceptible since they are more likely to be malnourished, lack access to good health care, and are likely to be living in cramped quarters with their families. In addition, women with TB are two times more likely to have premature babies or experience stillbirth.

On January 5, 2012, a group of concerned advocates, researchers, and medical professionals came together in Washington, DC for a community dialogue and strategy session on combating this global epidemic. The meeting was organized by the Treatment Action Group (TAG), the Center for Global Health Policy, ACTION, Stop TB Partnership, and the American Thoracic Society. As Coco Jervis, Senior Policy Associate at TAG said, the meeting was a way to “sound the alarm” about this leading killer of mother and children, to raise awareness of the impact of TB on global health, and to develop advocacy and research agendas.

Speakers at the event highlighted that most cases of TB in children and women could be easily prevented with simple, inexpensive measures and increased detection. The lack of integration of TB care into HIV and maternal and child health services in many health systems means that mothers and children are frequently not tested for TB at pre-natal or well-woman visits, a huge missed opportunity. If TB is detected early in a child it can almost always be cured. But delays caused by poor access to healthcare or parents not being able to afford the 6 months of treatment with multiple different drugs required to treat TB results in more than 200,000 children dying from TB each year (a number which is likely much higher due to underreporting). Family Care International is working with partners across Africa to increase integration of maternal, newborn and child health services with programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to address these delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Jeffrey Starke, a professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Director of the Children’s Tuberculosis Clinic at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Dr. Sharon Nachman, a professor of pediatrics at SUNY Stony Brook University Medical Center in Long Island, highlighted the significant research and treatment needs that exist noting that many drug trials do not include a focus on developing pediatric versions of TB medicines and do not include pregnant women. The mother of a 6 month old TB patient at Texas Children’s Hospital shared the heartbreaking story of how her son, who did have access to high quality medical care in the US, was misdiagnosed and developed TB meningitis, an extremely dangerous brain infection. He suffered through months of painful treatments and surgeries before beginning to recover. She called on public health authorities and drug companies to make simple changes like creating chewable tablets of TB medication that would be easier for children to take and conducting routine testing in children. She reminded participants in the meeting that TB is not only a problem in the developing world but is also a very real health threat here in the United States.

The good news is that treatments are available for TB and new drugs are in development. The US government also increased its development aid for tuberculosis programs worldwide by 5% for 2012, an important success considering the current economic climate. But more must be done. Check out the Stop TB Partnership’s website for ways that you can get involved with World Tuberculosis Day on March 24, 2012 to help raise awareness of the need to stop TB:   www.stoptb.org

Learn more about the impact of TB on women and children through ACTION’s issue briefs below, and consider sharing this information through Facebook, Twitter, or email to help raise awareness of tuberculosis among your family and friends.

Children and Tuberculosis: Exposing a Hidden Epidemic

Women and Tuberculosis: Taking Action Against a Neglected Issue