The wide gap in maternal mortality ratios worldwide indicates major inequities in the levels of risk women face during pregnancy. Two priority strategies have emerged among safe motherhood advocates: increasing the quality of emergency obstetric care facilities and deploying skilled birth attendants. The training of traditional birth attendants, a strategy employed in the 1970s and 1980s, is no longer considered a best practice. However, inadequate access to emergency obstetric care and skilled birth attendants means women living in remote areas continue to die in large numbers from preventable maternal causes. This paper outlines an intervention to address the leading direct cause of maternal mortality, postpartum haemorrhage. The potential for saving maternal lives might increase if community-based birth attendants, women themselves, or other community members could be trained to use misoprostol to prevent postpartum haemorrhage. The growing body of evidence regarding the safety and efficacy of misoprostol for this indication raises the question: if achievement of the fifth Millennium Development Goal is truly a priority, why can policy makers and women’s health advocates not see that misoprostol distribution at the community level might have life-saving benefits that outweigh risks?
Chu, Brhlikova and Pollock’s article suggests the WHO rethink its decision to include misoprostol on the Essential Medi- cines List. Their paper is a sad example of workers in an elite setting advocating policies with the potential to endanger the lives of thousands of vulnerable women in low-resource settings.
Recent efforts to reduce maternal mortality in developing countries have focused primarily on two long-term aims: training and deploying skilled birth attendants and upgrading emergency obstetric care facilities. Given the future population-level benefits, strengthening of health systems makes excellent strategic sense but it does not address the immediate safe-delivery needs of the estimated 45 million women who are likely to deliver at home, without a skilled birth attendant. There are currently 28 countries from four major regions in which fewer than half of all births are attended by skilled birth attendants. Sixty-nine percent of maternal deaths in these four regions can be attributed to these 28 countries, despite the fact that these countries only constitute 34% of the total population in these regions. Trends documenting the change in the proportion of births accompanied by a skilled attendant in these 28 countries over the last 15-20 years offer no indication that adequate change is imminent. To rapidly reduce maternal mortality in regions where births in the home without skilled birth attendants are common, governments and community-based organizations could implement a cost-effective, complementary strategy involving health workers who are likely to be present when births in the home take place. Training community-based birth attendants in primary and secondary prevention technologies (e.g. misoprostol, family planning, measurement of blood loss, and postpartum care) will increase the chance that women in the lowest economic quintiles will also benefit from global safe motherhood efforts.
Objective: Guide policy-makers in prioritizing safe motherhood interventions.
Methods: Three models (LOW, MED, HIGH) were constructed based on 34 sub-Saharan African countries to assess the relative cost-effectiveness of available safe motherhood interventions. Cost and effectiveness data were compiled and inserted into the WHO Mother Baby Package Costing Spreadsheet. For each model we assessed the percentage in maternal mortality reduction after implementing all interventions, and optimal combinations of interventions given restricted budgets of US$ 0.50, US$ 1.00, US$ 1.50 per capital maternal health expenditures respectively for LOW, MED, and HIGH models.
Results: The most cost-effective interventions were family planning and safe abortion (fpsa), antenatal care including misoprostol distribution for postpartum hemorrhage prevention at home deliveries (anc-miso), followed by sepsis treatment (sepsis) and facility-based postpartum hemorrhage management (pph).
The current paper examines the realities of women delivering in resource-poor settings, and recommends cost-effective, scalable strategies for making these deliveries safer. Ninety-five percent of maternal deaths occur in poor settings, and the largest proportion of these deaths are women who deliver at home, far away from health care facilities, and without financial access to skilled providers. This situation will improve only when policymakers and programme planners refocus their attention on service delivery and financing interventions, with the potential to reach the largest portion of women living in places where mortality is the highest. We suggest three feasible interventions that can potentially minimise both demand and supply side problems of safe delivery: (1) misoprostol to treat postpartum haemorrhage, an easy to use and heat stable technology to reduce the leading cause of maternal deaths; (2) alternative providers, such as clinical officers, trained to offer emergency obstetric care services; (3) financing safe delivery through vouchers or other mechanisms that can be implemented in poor settings and made attractive to the donor community through output-based assistance (OBA).
Keywords: postpartum haemorrhage; maternal mortality; safe delivery; vouchers; misoprostol
Published In Global Public Health, Volume 4, Issue 6 November 2009 , pages 575 – 587
This comment in the explores the role of policy and research in using the prevention of postpartum hemorrhage and suggest a joint meeting by WHO and FIGO to revisit the 2009 statement by WHO which does not recommend the use of misoprostol at the community level.
This paper sought to determine the safety and feasibility of home-based prophylaxis of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) with misoprostol, including assessment of the need for referrals and additional interventions. In rural Tigray, Ethiopia, traditional birth attendants (TBAs) in intervention areas were trained to administer 600mcg of oral misoprostol. In non-intervention areas women were referred to the nearest health facility. Of the 966 vaginal deliveries attended by TBAs, only 8.9% of those who took misoprostol prophylactically (n=485) needed additional intervention due to excessive bleeding compared to 18.9% of those who did not take misoprostol (n=481).The experience of symptoms among those who used misoprostol can be considered of minor relevance and self-contained. This study found that prophylactic use of misoprostol in home births is a safe and feasible intervention. Community health care workers trained in its use can correctly and effectively administer misoprostol and be a champion in reducing PPH morbidity and mortality (Afr J Reprod Health 2009; 13:87-95)
Literature review to identify interventions that require minimal treatment/infrastructure and are not dependent on skilled providers. Simulations were run to assess the potential number of maternal lives that could be saved through intervention implementation according to potential program impact. Regional and country level estimates are provided as examples of settings that would most benefit from proposed interventions.
Three interventions were identified: (i) improve access to contraception; (ii) increase efforts to reduce deaths from unsafe abortion; and (iii) increase access to misoprostol to control postpartum hemorrhage (including for home births). The combined effect of postpartum hemorrhage and unsafe abortion prevention would result in the greatest gains in maternal deaths averted. Bold new initiatives are needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters. Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths occur in developing countries and the majority of thes ewomen deliver alone, or with a traditional birth attendant. It is time for maternal health program planners to reprioritize interventions in the face of human and financial resource constraints. The three proposed interventions address the largest part of the maternal health burden.
© 2008 Elsevier Ireland
published in Health Policy 2009