Emergency contraception: The reproductive health innovation everyone should know about

By Elizabeth Westley and Monica Kerrigan

Elizabeth Westley leads the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception. Monica Kerrigan is a global leader in family planning and previously served at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and as a senior adviser to Family Planning 2020.

This article originally appeared on Devex.

Unintended pregnancies take a harrowing toll on women, young people, families and nations. When women are unable to decide whether and when to have children, maternal and newborn deaths rise, educational and economic opportunities are lost, families, communities and countries suffer greatly.

Global data highlights the tremendous challenge we face: 213 million pregnancies occur annually and an astonishing 40 percent — about 85 million — of these are unintended. In the United States alone, there are approximately 3 million unintended pregnancies each year, and in India, a staggering 18 million. A woman’s ability to make informed decisions about her reproductive health is one of the most basic human rights. It is a decision that can determine what kind of future she will have — and whether she will have one at all.

Emergency contraception is a unique tool for women to space and time their pregnancies. It is grossly underutilized, underfunded, and not fully optimized globally. It is the only contraceptive method that can be taken after unprotected sex and is effective for several days to prevent pregnancy. It is especially needed by women who have been sexually assaulted, who are often desperate to avoid becoming pregnant by their rapist. Continue reading “Emergency contraception: The reproductive health innovation everyone should know about”

EML Search: New resource for reproductive and maternal health advocates

Shafia Rashid is Senior Technical Advisor at the FCI Program of Management Sciences for Health.

In June 2013, Imtiaz Kamal–a crusader for midwifery and women’s health–celebrated Pakistan’s official recognition of the essential maternal health medicine, misoprostol, which has proven easy to administer, safe and effective for preventing and treating excessive postpartum bleeding. “Given the high prevalence of home births,” Imtiaz explained, “we need to invest in solutions, such as misoprostol, that save lives now, until we can achieve the long-term goals of strengthening health systems and increasing rates of facility births.” Continue reading “EML Search: New resource for reproductive and maternal health advocates”

Misoprostol For Postpartum Hemorrhage – A Life-Saving Technology for Maternal Health

Shafia Rashid is Senior Technical Advisor for the FCI Program of Management Sciences for Health.

Available since the 1980s, the medicine misoprostol was initially marketed to prevent stomach ulcers. Health professionals eventually discovered that misoprostol also stimulates contractions of the uterus, making it useful for a number of maternal and reproductive health conditions, including postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), induction of labor, treatment of miscarriage, and induced abortion (alone or in combination with mifepristone). Misoprostol is stable at room temperature, available in pill form, and inexpensive. Because of these advantages and misoprostol’s wide availability in many countries, health providers began using misoprostol off-label—in a way not specified on its registration—with differing regimens and routes of administration, and in the absence of evidence-based clinical guidelines. Continue reading “Misoprostol For Postpartum Hemorrhage – A Life-Saving Technology for Maternal Health”

Misoprostol for treatment of postpartum hemorrhage added to WHO Essential Medicines List

Shafia Rashid is senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

For more than five years, FCI has been working with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to build the evidence base for expanded availability and use of misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). PPH is the leading cause of maternal death, and misoprostol is a safe, effective medicine that is especially practical in low-resource settings, because it is available as a tablet and does not require refrigeration or injection.

This week marked an important milestone in global efforts to make misoprostol available to the women who need it, as the World Health Organization (WHO) approved its inclusion on the Model List of Essential Medicines (EML) for the treatment of PPH. Misoprostol was included on the EML for prevention of PPH in 2011, and the recent decision signifies WHO’s full endorsement of misoprostol as an essential maternal health medicine in settings where oxytocin — which requires cold storage and intravenous injection — is not available or cannot be used safely. The WHO Expert Committee for the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines, a panel that meets every two years to update the EML, recommended that misoprostol be listed for the additional indication of treating PPH[1] and retained on the list for prevention of PPH. Continue reading “Misoprostol for treatment of postpartum hemorrhage added to WHO Essential Medicines List”

Misoprostol for postpartum hemorrhage: translating promise into reality

By Melissa Wanda, Advocacy Officer, Family Care International – Kenya

This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Taskforce blog.

In Kenya, where I work as an advocate for women’s health and rights, women continue to die during pregnancy and childbirth at alarming rates. Approximately 25% of these deaths are due to heavy bleeding following childbirth, also known as postpartum hemorrhage or PPH. More than half of women deliver at home; that proportion can be even higher in some counties with limited infrastructure and predominantly rural populations. Even in cases where a woman arrives to a health facility in time, she can still face significant barriers to receive the care she needs:

  • supplies needed for childbirth—such as a blood pressure cuff or clean gloves—may not be available;
  • essential medicines—such as oxytocin or misoprostol, which can prevent or treat postpartum bleeding—may be in short supply; and
  • a skilled health provider may not be present to provide the care a woman needs to have a safe delivery.

A key strategy for improving maternal health is to ensure that every woman has access to effective medicines to prevent and treat PPH during childbirth. Oxytocin and misoprostol are proven, lifesaving medicines for the prevention and treatment of PPH. Misoprostol offers a number of advantages for women living in remote, rural areas: misoprostol does not need refrigeration, is available in tablet form and can, therefore, be administered with no specialized equipment or skills. Misoprostol provides an effective option for preventing and treating PPH in settings such as homes and health facilities lacking electricity, refrigeration and IV equipment.

For these reasons, Kenya’s Ministry of Health established a national-level task force to provide a common forum for addressing policy-level issues related to the use of misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of PPH. While misoprostol is registered in Kenya for the management of PPH, and national guidelines govern its use, studies have shown that misoprostol’s procurement and availability in public health facilities is irregular and inconsistent.

This national, multi-stakeholder task force—composed of government, NGO, research, faith-based and health profession representatives[1]—was tasked with spearheading access to and use of misoprostol for PPH. Beginning in 2014, the Misoprostol Task Force, convened by the ministry of health, met regularly to identify the key policy gaps at the national level and to take concrete action. Key policy priorities identified by the Task Force:

  • Harmonize the national clinical guidelines:  Kenya has numerous clinical management guidelines advising health professionals on how to administer misoprostol for all its indications (PPH, induction of labor and post-abortion care): the 2009 Clinical Guidelines for Management and Referral of Common Conditions at Levels 4-6 and the 2012 National Guidelines for Quality Obstetric and Perinatal Care. While these guidelines recommend the use of misoprostol to prevent and treat PPH when oxytocin is unavailable, they do not reflect the latest evidence and were inconsistent with each other. The Task Force developed a handout that harmonizes these different guidelines and produced a job aid for health workers. Both documents are waiting approval by the ministry of health; once approved, they will be disseminated at the national and sub-national/county levels.
  • Revise the national essential medicine list: While the Kenya Essential Medicine List(KEML, 2010) classifies misoprostol as a complementary and core[2] oxytocic drug, no specification is made for its use in PPH prevention or treatment. The Task Force drafted a letter to the National Medicines and Therapeutics Committee, to call for the addition of misoprostol to the KEML for PPH prevention and treatment at all levels of the health system. This letter will likely be deliberated by the committee when it meets this year to update the KEML.

Continued advocacy is still needed to ensure these positive developments in the Kenyan national policy framework translate into actual improvements in the availability and use of misoprostol. The Task Force has served as a critical forum for bringing together key stakeholders, promoting national level discussion and supporting effective action.

For more information and tools for conducting effective advocacy:

Scaling up Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage: Moving from Evidence to Action

Advocacy, Approval, Access: Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage A Guide for Effective Advocacy

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.

[1] Membership includes representatives from the Ministry of Health-Reproductive Maternal Health Services Unit, Family Care International-Kenya, PATH, Management Sciences for Health, the Population Council, UNFPA, AMREF, Institute of Family Medicine (INFAMED), Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK), Jhpiego, the World Health Organization and professional organizations of gynecologists and nurses.

[2] The Core List represents the priority needs for the health care system. Medicines on the Core List are considered to be the most efficacious, safe and cost‐effective; are expected to be routinely available in health facilities; and should be affordable to the majority of the population.  Complimentary medicines are essential medicines needed for specialized diagnostic or monitoring facilities, and/or specialist medical care, and/or specialist training.

Improving Access to Maternal Health Commodities through a Systems Approach: Where are we now?

 

By Beth Yeager, Principal Technical Advisor, Management Sciences for Health & Chair, Maternal Health Supplies Caucus, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition. 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.

Nearly three years ago, I blogged about a systems approach to improving access for a Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) series on maternal health commodities:

Increasing access to essential medicines and supplies for maternal health requires a systems approach that includes: improving governance of pharmaceutical systems, strengthening supply chain management, increasing the availability of information for decision-making, developing appropriate financing strategies and promoting rational use of medicines and supplies.

It was an exciting year for maternal health. The UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children (UNCoLSC) had just released its report with 10 recommendations for improving access to 13 priority commodities that included 3 for maternal health: oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate.  The UNCoLSC report also reflected the idea that a systems approach was necessary and included recommendations related to both upstream and downstream supply chain bottlenecks, information, financing and appropriate use. That same year, the Maternal Health Supplies Caucus of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition held its first membership meeting in October for the purpose of joining the maternal health and family planning communities to “draw on existing approaches to address the bottlenecks undermining commodity security across health systems.”

Since then, great progress has been made in identifying the bottlenecks to access, raising awareness of the complexity of addressing these challenges and increasing global commitment to ending preventable maternal deaths as part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Improving governance

With respect to governance, through the efforts of the UNCoLSC to promote coordinated national strategies for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH), the need for coordinated planning among all stakeholders, including measures of accountability, has come to the forefront.

Reviewing national policies — such as the essential medicines lists and standard treatment guidelines — and advocating for the inclusion of the three priority maternal health medicines in these policies has raised awareness of both the need to harmonize policies at the national level and the challenges to implementing these policies.

Recognition of the importance of the regulatory role governments play in ensuring the quality of products in circulation in the public and private sectors has also grown. In a recent study conducted by the USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services program (SIAPS) in Bangladesh, we found that over 40% of the oxytocin in circulation at the district level was procured from local wholesalers.

Strengthening supply chain management

In terms of supply chain challenges, resources are now available to assist countries in more accurate forecasting for maternal health medicines. The Estimation of Unmet Medical Need for Essential Maternal Health Medicines developed by SIAPS (a project led by Management Sciences for Health with partners) presents an approach that allows national program managers and other key stakeholders to assess a country’s theoretical need for the three maternal health commodities and compare this with actual procurement data from past years in an effort to make more evidence-based decisions. The RMNCH quantification guidance developed by the Supply Chain Technical Resource Team of the UNCoLSC also includes the three maternal health medicines.

Information for decision making

Over the past three years, we have also learned how little information is readily available about these commodities and the conditions they are meant to treat at the country level. In many cases, logistic management information systems do not capture these three products (and many others necessary for maternal health). Likewise, health information systems do not necessarily capture the number of women who develop post-partum hemorrhage and are successfully treated. Efforts are currently underway in a number of countries to address this problem.

The global community has learned a lot these past three years and made great progress in further revealing the actions required to increase access to quality medicines and supplies for maternal health. With the current proposed target of ending preventable maternal deaths by 2030, global and national stakeholders need to continue their coordinated efforts to build stronger, more responsive systems.

Beth Yeager, MHS, is Principal Technical Advisor, SIAPS program, at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), Chair Maternal Health Supplies Caucus, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Advocacy for Misoprostol, Advocacy for Saving Lives

By Katie Millar

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

Hundreds of thousands of women die every year giving birth. The leading causes of these deaths—hemorrhage, infection, and eclampsia—are mostly preventable and treatable. Yet, proven treatments for these conditions are not reaching the women who need them most. In the poorest parts of the world, one in six women will die giving birth, compared to one in 30,000 in Northern Europe. To die giving birth must not be an expectation; we must make it the rarest exception.

Post-partum hemorrhage (PPH), the leading cause of maternal mortality, is mostly preventable. The onset of PPH is usually sudden, and if a woman is not giving birth in a well-equipped facility, she will face many delays getting care—delays that could cost her life. Since PPH needs immediate and effective treatment, prevention is a better option, especially for women who live far from a facility.

A prevention strategy has been discovered. The drug Misoprostol is a tablet that, when given immediately after the baby is born, can prevent life-threatening PPH. Misoprostol works by causing strong uterine contractions, putting pressure on potentially leaky blood vessels. Although this strategy is simple and inexpensive, there are many controversies surrounding its implementation.

Despite the WHO adding misoprostol to its essential medicines list for all countries, some contest its scale-up. One reason is that misoprostol can be used to cause abortion if taken before the clinically indicated period, or the time immediately following birth. To advocate for this life-saving commodity, Family Care International has created an advocacy tool to facilitate the uptake and scale-up of misoprostol to save lives.miso brief

miso briefThis publication, available in English and soon in French, provides national advocates and civil society organizations guidance in conducting effective advocacy for the successful uptake of misoprostol for prevention and treatment of PPH. Through case studies and an Advocacy for Access Framework, the publication provides concrete examples to support misoprostol’s availability and use at the national level.

If you are working to prevent maternal mortality, please take a moment to explore this resource. Advocating for the scale-up of misoprostol can have a profound effect on decreasing the number of women who die giving birth each year.

Are you currently working in preventing PPH and/or the scale-up of misoprostol? Please contact Katie Millar if you are interested in being a guest blogger for the MHTF. We, and many others in the field, would benefit greatly to hear about your experiences.

Advocacy success story: Burkina Faso broadens access to misoprostol, an essential maternal health medicine

By Brahima Bassane, MD

[Version française ci-dessous]

Brahima Bassane, FCI’s national director in Burkina Faso, is a public health physician.

Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) — excessive, uncontrolled bleeding after childbirth —remains the leading cause of maternal death worldwide.  In countries like Burkina Faso, where many births still occur at home, the drug misoprostol offers a number of advantages for preventing and treating PPH because (unlike oxytocin, considered the ‘gold standard’ medicine for PPH) it can be easily administered and does not require cold storage. In settings with limited infrastructure and lack of skilled birth attendants, misoprostol may be a woman’s only chance for surviving PPH.

Access to high-quality medicines is part of every citizen’s right to the highest attainable standard of health. But in spite of misoprostol’s proven safety and efficacy, decision-makers in some countries have been reluctant to authorize its widespread availability, or are unaware of the available evidence. Many governments have not included misoprostol in their national essential medicine list (EML), which is often used as the basis for importation, distribution, and marketing of medicines for the public health system.

FCI works to support wider understanding, acceptance, and use of misoprostol for PPH. This year in Burkina Faso, our efforts — with a range of advocacy partners — to persuade government officials to deem misoprostol for PPH an essential medicine were successful. This success story offers a potential model for effective, collaborative, focused advocacy in other countries where misoprostol’s lifesaving benefits are not yet broadly available.

Our advocacy began in earnest last September, when FCI convened a meeting  to share the latest research on misoprostol for PPH and to develop advocacy strategies that would convince the government to take action. These committed and motivated maternal health champions called for the widespread availability of misoprostol, stating that the inclusion of misoprostol in the national EML was an urgent national priority.

Following the meeting, a small advisory committee was assigned the task of reaching key government decision makers. The committee submitted a letter and technical note to the Director-General of Pharmacy, Medicines, and Laboratories (DGPML) requesting inclusion of misoprostol on the EML. A DGPML technical committee then reviewed the submitted application, gathering all available evidence on misoprostol. During this review period, FCI and our partners met again with the Director-General of the DGPML, who stated his support for misoprostol as a critical tool for reducing the burden of PPH in Burkina Faso. FCI and partners also met with the Secretary-General of the Ministry of Health, who affirmed the government’s responsibility for ensuring the availability of misoprostol for PPH at public health facilities. He also came out in support of misoprostol distribution at the community level, and recommended ongoing supervision and training to ensure its correct use.

In February of this year, all of these advocacy efforts paid off: the 2014 revision of the national EML (Liste Nationale Des Medicaments et Consommables Medicaux Essentials, Edition 2014) includes misoprostol both for prevention and for treatment of PPH.

While this is an important step in making misoprostol available in the government health system, FCI and our partners will continue advocating and working to ensure that all women have access to a uterotonic , like misoprostol or oxytocin, for effective prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. These efforts are critical for countries’ efforts to fulfill the promise of MDG 5 and put an end, once and for all, to preventable maternal death.

Learn more about FCI’s work on misoprostol for PPH here.

To join an online community on misoprostol for PPH, please click here.

 

Réussite exemplaire du plaidoyer : Le Burkina Faso élargit l’accès au misoprostol, un médicament essentiel de la santé maternelle

Par Brahima Bassane, MD– médecin en titre

Directeur national de FCI au Burkina Faso, Brahima Bassane est médecin de santé publique.

L’Hémorragie du post-partum (HPP) — des saignements excessifs, difficiles à arrêter survenant après l’accouchement — demeure la principale cause de décès maternels à travers le monde. Dans des pays tels que le Burkina Faso où un nombre important des accouchements surviennent encore à domicile, le médicament misoprostol fournit nombre d’avantages pour la prévention et le traitement de l’HPP dans la mesure où il peut être facilement administré et ne nécessite pas une conservation à dans un réfrigérateur (contrairement à l’ocytocine qui est considérée comme le médicament ‘de référence’ pour l’HPP).Le misoprostol peut représenter la seule chance de survie d’une femme en proie à l’HPP dans les milieux communautaires qui disposent d’un nombre insuffisant de centres de santé et d’accoucheuses qualifiées.

L’accès à des médicaments de haute qualité est un des droits de chaque citoyen pour lui permettre de jouir du meilleur état de santé possible. Toutefois, en dépit de l’innocuité et de l’efficacité reconnues du misoprostol, les décideurs ont été dans certains pays, réticents à autoriser sa mise à disposition généralisée ou ils ignorent les données disponibles. Plusieurs gouvernements n’ont pas inclus le misoprostol dans leur liste des médicaments essentiels (LME) qui est souvent utilisée comme critère pour l’importation, la distribution et la commercialisation de médicaments pour le système de santé publique.

FCI œuvre en vue de soutenir une meilleure compréhension, acceptation et utilisation du misoprostol pour l’HPP. Au Burkina Faso, nos initiatives —de concert avec un éventail de partenaires du plaidoyer —visant à convaincre cette année les responsables gouvernementaux de considérer le misoprostol pour l’HPP comme un médicament essentiel, ont été couronnées de succès. Cette réussite exemplaire fournit un modèle potentiel de plaidoyer efficace, mené en collaboration et bien ciblé dans d’autres pays où les avantages salvateurs du misoprostol ne sont pas encore largement disponibles.

Notre plaidoyer a véritablement débuté en septembre 2013 lorsque FCI a organisé une réunion en vue de partager les résultats des toutes dernières recherches sur le misoprostol pour l’HPP et de mettre au point des stratégies de plaidoyer qui convaincraient le gouvernement à prendre les bonnes décisions. Ces défenseurs engagés et motivés de la santé maternelle se sont prononcés pour la mise à disposition généralisée du misoprostol en indiquant que l’inclusion du misoprostol dans la Liste nationale des médicaments essentiels était une priorité nationale.

Suite à la réunion, la tâche de prendre contact avec les principaux décideurs gouvernementaux a été confiée à un petit comité consultatif. Le comité a présenté au Directeur Général de la Pharmacie, du Médicament et des Laboratoires (DGPML) une lettre et une note technique sollicitant l’inclusion du misoprostol dans la LME. Un comité technique de la DGPML a ensuite examiné la demande soumise en recueillant toutes les données disponibles relatives au misoprostol. Au cours de cette période d’examen, FCI et nos partenaires se sont réunis avec le Directeur Général de la GPML qui a exprimé son soutien pour le misoprostol comme outil crucial pour alléger le fardeau de l’HPP au Burkina Faso. Cette équipe restreinte de FCI et ses partenaires s’est également réunie avec le Secrétaire Général du Ministère de la Santé qui a affirmé la responsabilité du gouvernement à assurer la disponibilité du misoprostol pour l’HPP dans les établissements de santé. Il s’est également prononcé en faveur de la distribution du misoprostol jusqu’à l’échelle communautaire  tout en recommandant une supervision suivie et la formation afin de garantir son utilisation adéquate.

En février au cours de cette année 2014, toutes ces initiatives du plaidoyer ont porté leurs fruits : la révision en 2014 de la LNMCE (Liste Nationale Des Médicaments et Consommables Médicaux Essentiels, Édition 2014) comprend notamment le misoprostol pour la prévention ainsi que le traitement de l’HPP.

Bien que la mise à disposition du misoprostol dans le système public de santé constitue une étape importante, FCI et nos partenaires continueront à plaider et à œuvrer pour veiller à ce que toutes les femmes aient accès à un utérotonique tel que le misoprostol ou l’ocytocine pour une prévention et un traitement efficaces de l’hémorragie du post-partum. Ces initiatives sont cruciales pour les efforts des pays à tenir leur promesse pour l’OMD5 et à définitivement mettre un terme aux décès maternels évitables.

Trouvez de plus amples informations relatives aux travaux de FCI sur le misoprostol pour l’HPP.

Veuillez cliquer ici pour intégrer une communauté virtuelle sur le misoprostol pour l’HPP.

Building the momentum: Misoprostol for postpartum hemorrhage in Pakistan

By Imtiaz Kamal

Imtiaz Kamal is the president of the Midwifery Association of Pakistan. She has led a “one-woman crusade” to promote the midwifery profession for more than 50 years.

In June 2013, all four provinces of Pakistan—Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan—included misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) on their respective Essential Medicines Lists (EMLs). EMLs indicate medicines that “satisfy the priority health care needs of the population” and should be affordable and available at all times within the context of a functioning health system. As advocates working towards improving reproductive and maternal health in Pakistan, we’ve come a long way in our mission to expand access to misoprostol. In this post, I share our advocacy strategy and the challenges we faced.

The sixth most populous country in the world, Pakistan has an alarmingly high maternal mortality ratio: 260 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Every year, almost 12,000 women in Pakistan die from pregnancy and childbirth related complications, accounting for almost 5% of the world’s maternal deaths, and PPH—excessive bleeding after childbirth—causes 27% of these deaths. About 57% of deliveries still take place without a skilled birth attendant present, and in these situations, women often do not have the means to address life-threatening complications when they arise. Fortunately, there is a safe and effective solution to treat and prevent PPH—misoprostol, a low-cost medicine that is practical for use in both facility and home births.

For many years, the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health, the Midwifery Association of Pakistan (MAP), and the Association for Mothers and Newborns, with support from the Research & Advocacy Fund (RAF), championed the widespread availability of misoprostol in Pakistan.

One step for improving access to this essential medicine was to get provincial governments to include misoprostol on their respective EMLs. Then, the provincial governments can supply it to the public sector health facilities, which would provide this essential medicine at minimal or no cost to women wherever they live.

Usually, the Pakistani government follows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) EML, but due to misoprostol’s association as an “abortion drug,” we had to sell it to policymakers, highlighting misoprostol’s huge lifesaving potential and the urgency to expand access to women who need it. Misoprostol is an essential part of a package of strategies to improve maternal health, and we must ensure that its use for other indications does not lead to limitations on its availability for PPH.

We devised an advocacy strategy to share the evidence and stimulate supportive policy change through:

  • Public education and awareness: fact sheets and case studies in English and Urdu, press conferences, trainings with journalists, and air time on television;
  • Advocacy with decision-makers, including high-level Ministry of Health authorities, district health officers, OB/GYNs, and other health providers: face-to-face meetings  and dissemination seminars in Punjab, Sindh, and the federal capital, Islamabad, to share guidelines from WHO and the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).
Advocates conducted seminars with health care providers to present evidence on the life-saving potential of misoprostol for PPH and post-abortion care (PAC). (Image: Midwifery Association of Pakistan)

Our advocacy strategy led to very specific, positive outcomes:

  • Endorsements from key champions: The Director General of Health in Sindh province became a close ally  and guided us on how to move forward in garnering support from  OB/GYNs and  district health officers;
  •  A widely distributed position paper on misoprostol for PPH and post-abortion care (PAC) was signed by six professional organisations working for maternal and neonatal health;
  • The National Assembly decided that the federal government should provide training to midwives and other health care providers on the administration of misoprostol to manage incomplete abortion and miscarriage and prevent PPH.  In Sindh, the Directorate of Nursing came to us for guidance, and the first misoprostol workshop for midwifery teachers is scheduled for late February 2014.
Midwives will receive training 0n the administration of misoprostol for PPH and PAC. (Image: Midwifery Association of Pakistan)

Our advocacy efforts weren’t without challenges, however. For example, many physicians were cautious or opposed to making misoprostol more widely available. The most senior OB/GYN (from a province with very high maternal mortality) raised a number of concerns after a presentation we held on misoprostol, commenting: “It is not candy. We cannot let it be available freely.”  We explained that, given the high prevalence of home births, we need to invest in solutions, such as misoprostol, that save lives now, until we can achieve the long-term goals of strengthening health systems and increasing rates of facility births. Distributing misoprostol doesn’t replace efforts to promote skilled care, but we need to recognize the reality that many women are not able to give birth in well-equipped health facilities with skilled staff. All women, wherever they decide to give birth, need access to effective medicines.

We faced similar comments and questions at every advocacy meeting. But this didn’t stop us; we continued to make our case. Eventually, that very same OB/GYN signed our position paper on misoprostol.

The movement to achieve national recognition of misoprostol for PPH has been challenging, but we are making progress, turning heads, and changing minds. Step by step, we push forward. Now that we have achieved Federal approval of misoprostol, we are working to advance community level distribution of misoprostol to women in their eighth month of pregnancy. As a global community, with partners such as FCI rallying behind the cause, we will succeed in making sure women no longer have to fear for their lives when giving birth.

For more information:

Mapping Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage Regional Perspectives on Challenges and Opportunities South Asia

Advocacy for PPH Prevention and PAC: PowerPoint Presentation at the Research and Advocacy Fund 2nd Annual Conference