By: Lindsay Menard-Freeman, Women Deliver
In 2012, the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women’s and Children’s Health was formed to call attention to the need for increasing access to and use of critical medicines and health supplies in the countries where the most women, newborns, and children under five die each year. The Commission, released a report which outlined a priority list of 13 reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) commodities that can prevent and treat many of the leading causes of death in these countries.
In spite of the strong evidence showing their impact in saving lives, too often the 13 commodities are out of the reach of those individuals who need them. These medicines and health supplies cost just dollars, with the majority costing less than US$1 per dose. However, multiple barriers prevent people from accessing these commodities.
The Commission report outlines ten bold and innovative recommendations to catalyze changes in the way the 13 commodities are produced, distributed, and used, estimating that the effective implementation of the recommendations would result in saving the lives of six million women and children over five years.
The Commission estimated that an ambitious scaling up of these 13 commodities over five years would cost less than US$2.6 billion and would cumulatively save over 6 million lives including 230,000 maternal deaths averted through increased access to family planning. Achieving these goals would prevent an extra 1.8 million child deaths a year, reducing the estimated 7.1 million deaths in 2010 to 5.3 million. Likewise, the estimated 287,000 maternal deaths in 2010 would be reduced to 213,000 by increased access to maternal health and family planning commodities.
Recommendation 7 focuses on the need for the private sector and civil society support interventions to increase demand for and utilization of health services and products, particularly among under-served populations. A case study of the Ananya Program, which takes a multi-platform approach to reduce maternal and infant mortality in Bihar, India.
The Ananya Program takes a ‘360 degree approach’ to improving maternal, newborn, and child health. BBC Media Action utilizes a combination of face-to-face communication, ICT, mass media and community work to deliver lifesaving messages to the women of Bihar. Mobile Kunji, which means “guide” or “key” in Hindi, is a job aid that combines IVR-based mobile service and an illustrated deck of cards supporting key maternal and child health messages. When visiting a family, a CHW dials the individual shortcode printed on each card and a health message plays for the family.
From August 2012 to February 2013, use of Mobile Academy and Mobile Kunji was eight times higher than expected. Although only 40,000 workers were initially trained to use Mobile Kunji, almost 75,000 unique users called Mobile Kunji in that initial seven month period. Better access to health information can increase demand for health services. Mobile phones provide a means to that access for millions of people, even those living in the most remote areas. However, mobile phones and mHealth applications are not necessarily a cure-all; financing, scaling-up, and sustaining mobile health programs can be challenging.
To continue momentum, global leaders must focus on increasing financing, supporting country implementation, coordinating global efforts, and leading initiatives like operational research. National leaders must include access to commodities in their country plans and strategies, implement supportive policies, and commit to knowledge-sharing and evaluation.
For more information about the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children (the Commodities Commission), its 13 priority commodities, and examples of how its ten recommendations to improve access and availability are being applied globally and within countries, click here.
Flickr photo via DFID