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UN commission to bring life saving supplies to women in developing world

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Kate Townshend
WVoN co-editor

UNICEF and the United Nations Population fund have joined forces to launch a new commission aimed at improving access to vital health supplies for women and children across the developing world.

A key aim for the commission will be to extend availability and affordability of contraception for the 215 million women globally who currently lack access to family planning.

Figures suggest this could result in 53 million less unintended pregnancies and approximately 100,000 less maternal deaths every year.

In addition to this, the commission will focus its attention on high-impact supplies with a proven track record, such as antibiotics for pneumonia and oral rehydration solution for diarrhoea, which can reduce childhood deaths from these two common illnesses by more than 70 per cent.

Similarly, obstetric bleeding, the leading cause of maternal death around the world, results in an estimated 127,000 deaths annually, many of which could be prevented with life-saving medicines.

“Making sure that women and children have the medicines and other supplies they need is critical,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The Commission will tackle an overlooked but vital aspect of health systems, and ensure that women and children are protected from preventable causes of death and disease.”

Of course, it is not merely providing these services that is important. The commission will also examine systems that could be put in place to reduce obstacles for women when accessing care.

In disadvantaged communities health supplies are often under-utilised but the commission hopes recent successes with HIV and malaria programmes can be replicated to improve women and children’s overall health.

By strengthening local production capacities and promoting new technologies they will aim to ensure people are able to access the help they need, and that supplies are stable and affordable.

President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway will serve as founding co-chairs of the Commission on Life-saving Commodities for Women and Children.

It is part of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child movement which aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015.

“I am honoured to serve as the Co-Chair of this critical UN Commission because I recognize that the health of women and children is at the heart of all well-being and development in our society,” said President Jonathan.

“There is no doubt that lives can be saved by increasing access to affordable and effective medicines and health supplies. We must all make a difference and the time is now.”

“The day of birth is the most dangerous day in the life of a woman and her child,” said Prime Minister Stoltenberg.

“The fact that women do not get the care they need during childbirth is the most brutal expression of discrimination against women.

“To prevent these tragic and unnecessary deaths is not only a humanitarian urgency of highest priority, but a key investment for social and economic development.”

The Commission will pursue the following outcomes:

  • Reducing financial barriers to access through social protection mechanisms, such as fee waivers, vouchers and social insurance, and global financial mechanisms, such as pooled procurement
  • Creating incentives for international and local manufacturers to produce and innovatively package overlooked supplies
  • Identifying fast-track regulatory activities to accelerate registration and reduce registration fees for a special list of products to encourage a focus on quality medicines.

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