Safe Motherhood Week works closely with the Alliance for Maternal Health Equality in their quest to bring together key actors at EU and national level to work towards ensuring that policies exist and are implemented to deliver equity of access to quality maternal health at all levels.
On December 8, the Alliance attended the Together for the Next Generation – Research and Innovation for Maternal and Newborn Health, organised by the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Research & Innovation. Central to the conference was the role research and innovation must play in order to improve maternal and newborn health in light of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The need for data is critical
One of the priorities of the Alliance is to address the need for and lack of real-life data and evidence on the state of maternal health in Europe. With a focus on the need for more maternal, newborn and child health research, the conference was a priority for the Alliance. Data is critical to improving the situation for all mothers.
The conference was opened by Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, referring to the words of Countess Lucy Bawdwin, a major proponent of maternal health and rights. She compared childbirth to the experiences of soldiers in the trenches: each moment can be your last and you have nothing else to do but look danger in the face. Proper real-life data on maternal health must be regarded as having the same value as military intelligence at war: without it, you cannot advance and you have little chance at winning the battle for improving the lives of mothers.
One of the challenges in Europe is accessing healthcare
In Europe, maternal health is a particular problem for populations in low and middle income settings. With different cultural, economic and social dynamics within and between countries, the European landscape is already quite complex. While making the world safer for all mothers is essential, the issue in Europe seems to be around accessing the healthcare system and being properly informed and aware of rights and responsibilities.
One of the conclusions reached during the conference was that a collective approach to the problem is necessary. We can no longer divide the world into the ‘global north and the global south.’ All sides need to come together and work in partnership towards improved futures for mothers throughout the world. Europe also needs to make progress in maternal and newborn health.
Priya Agrawal, Executive Director of MSD for Mothers was one of the speakers at the European Commission conference.
Priya attended the launch of the Alliance for Maternal Health Equality hosted at the European Parliament during Safe Motherhood Week in September.
In her speech at the Together for the Next Generation conference , Priya focused on innovation in maternal health from a very hands on perspective. Maternal mortality is on a downward trend in most of the world with significant progress recorded since 1990 (a 44% decrease in the maternal mortality ratio.) But there is still a long way to go to ensure that every woman has a healthy pregnancy and a safe childbirth.
At MSD, innovation is split into three broad categories – Products, Providers and Patients – all of which fall under the umbrella of driving quality care and addressing unmet needs identified in the field.
- Products – lifesaving medicines. In maternal health, the use of oxytocin and magnesium sulphate have been fraught with risks and complications, negating their life-saving properties. Partnerships between the WHO and the pharmaceutical industry to identify correct dosage, pricing and usability are working to make these medicines more accessible and available.
- Providers need enabling environment. It is not enough to have great medicines if they are not available, or a provider doesn’t know how to use them, or there is no provider. Helping countries to address supply chain issues as well as developing suitable health infrastructures like social franchising (telemedicine, incentivised accreditation programs) have been proven as ways to support and strengthen health systems.
- Digital empowerment – giving voice to the voiceless using technology. Through the global use of mobile phones, access to information is becoming increasingly possible. The idea of a type of ‘tripadvisor for health’ would enable women to learn of their entitlements and to learn what to expect in relation to quality of care. The option to rate their care can empower women and push for standards to be raised.
During her speech, Priya was very open and shared their lessons learned, which upon first glance seem very obvious, but in reality are very challenging in relation to maternal health.
- Ask the end user what their needs are
Don’t stop at NGOs, representatives, key stakeholders, and international experts. Depending on what maternal health issue you are addressing, you need to engage directly with women, healthcare providers, or even governments.
- Work with the ‘end user’ to design the solution
The ‘need’ and the ‘desire’ must be tackled together; this is where the private sector needs to step in to ensure that balance is achieved.
- Don’t be afraid of failure
Systems need to be tested, and if they don’t work, lessons learned need to be applied so that improvements are made.
- Partnership is key
There is no quick-fix solution to maternal health problems. Working in partnership is a powerful means of making progress, step by step, registering the ups and downs, but keeping the objective in sight.
Priya concluded on a powerful note; “We cannot assume that research and cutting edge science benefits will reach those that need it most. There needs to be as much or more effort on innovations that ensure equitable reach as there is in the research.”