Increasing access to life-saving commodities for women and children

“More women are surviving childbirth and fewer children are dying before they reach the age of five. This is progress worth celebrating. However, many women and children whose lives could have been saved if they had had access to basic medicines are still dying. In the report of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, we offer specific recommendations aimed at ensuring that women and children in poor countries have access to life-saving medicines,” said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

 

“Mothers are dying as a result of bleeding after childbirth because health clinics do not have the inexpensive medicine needed to save their lives. Two-year-olds are dying of pneumonia because they are not given the antibiotics they need. Women who are not aware of modern methods of contraception are distraught when they discover that they are pregnant – some for the seventh time, knowing that they almost died the last time they gave birth. This is the everyday reality in far too many countries. It does not have to be like this. Many deaths could be avoided if women and children had access to effective, affordable and life-saving medicines,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

The UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children, co-chaired by Prime Minister Stoltenberg and Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, was established in March this year to improve access to thirteen life-saving medicines and health products for women and children in poor countries. Over a period of six months the Commission has developed a set of concrete recommendations aimed at reversing the tragic situation in which women and children are dying because they do not have access to essential medicines and health products.

Specific action plans have been drawn up to ensure that the Commission’s recommendations are translated into action.

Just one in four women gives birth at a clinic where there is access to life-saving medicines, just one in three children receives effective treatment for diarrhoea. The situation is different for vaccinations; four in five children receive the vaccines they need. We need to intensify efforts to ensure access to essential medicines,” said Mr Stoltenberg.

The Commission has drawn up a plan and set of 10 concrete recommendations for improving access to life-saving health supplies. The following are among the points included in the recommendations:

  • Strengthening the quality of medicines and health supplies;
  • Improving awareness of life-saving commodities among health workers and the local population;
  • Encouraging local manufacture of life-saving commodities (these are often so inexpensive that it costs more to transport them than to produce them locally);
  • Using information and communication technology to strengthen the supply chain and ensure that essential medicines and health supplies reach the women and children who need them.

Read the report (PDF).

In cooperation with the UN Secretary-General and the UN organisations, the poorest countries that have the highest maternal and child mortality rates have been selected as priority countries for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. How the recommendations are implemented will be determined by the individual countries themselves, with the participation of important actors from the private sector, NGOs and multilateral organisations.

Over the last 20 years we have seen considerable progress in tackling maternal and child mortality, with a reduction of over 40 % in child and maternal mortality rates between 1990 and 2011. There has been positive progress, even in the poorest countries, in efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 on reducing child mortality (with its target of reducing the under-five child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015) and MDG 5 on improving maternal health (with its targets of reducing the maternal mortality ratio by three quarters and achieving universal access to reproductive health by 2015). 

The Commission’s recommendations will help speed up progress in this area, and once implemented will improve access to Amoxicillin, used in the treatment of pneumonia, which is expected to save the lives of 900 000 children under the age of five over the next five years. The lives of 640 000 children can be saved by ensuring access to zinc supplements and oral rehydration salts for the treatment of diarrhoea. (These figures are based on estimates from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).)

 

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