Image courtesy Nothing But Nets/UNF
The United Nations Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health highlights the inequities suffered by women and children around the world, and sets an agenda to save 16 million lives by 2015.
It strongly advocates for universal access to basic health care for all women and children, identifying the need for increased access to and appropriate use of essential medicines and other commodities that are necessary to achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): MDG 1c, related to child nutrition; MDG 4, about child health; MDG 5, to promote maternal health; and MDG 6, to fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Too often, affordable, effective medicines and simple health supplies do not reach the women and children who need them.
Some of the common barriers to access include the lack of affordable products, lack of formulations safe for children, weak supply chains, inadequate regulatory capacity at country level to protect people from sub-standard or counterfeit products that can cause harm, and lack of awareness of how, why and when to use these commodities.
But recent experiences with products such as vaccines, and programs for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria,show that it is possible to overcome many of these barriers, even in the poorest and most isolated communities.
The UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children will apply lessons learned from these successes to ensure access to life-saving commodities for women and children.
The Commission will advocate at the highest levels to build consensus around priority actions for increasing availability, affordability, accessibility and rational use of essential commodities for women’s and children’s health.
Pharmacists at a maternal health clinic in Darfur, Sudan. Photo: Sven Torfinn / Panos Pictures, UNFPA.
President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway serve as Co-Chairs of the Commission, and UNICEF and UNFPA serve as Vice-Chairs. Commissioners (approximately 20) will include leaders from public, private and research/academic entities, representing regional and gender diversity.
An initial list of 13 essential, overlooked commodities in four categories (reproductive health, maternal health, newborn health, and child health) will be considered by the Commission in order to understand the main barriers that prevent access to many medicines and health products:
- 3 reproductive health (female condoms, implants, and emergency contraception).
- 3 maternal health (magnesium sulfate, oxytocin and misoprostol);
- 4 newborn health (chlorhexidine, injectable antibiotics, resuscitation equipment for asphyxia, and antenatal corticosteroid);
- 3 child health (oral rehydration solution, zinc, amoxicillin);
Lessons learned from analysis of this initial group of products will be applicable to other essential commodities in future.
Commissioners will be supported by a technical working group with three main areas of inquiry: market shaping, regulatory environment, and best practices and innovation. The working group will synthesize and prioritize existing knowledge and current work in these three areas, in order to inform the recommendations of the Commission.
The Commission will produce a set of recommendations for improving the accessibility of affordable, effective commodities for women’s and children’s health. Commissioners will use their personal advocacy platforms to promote action at the global, national and local level aimed at saving lives.