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.
A 50-fold disparity in maternal mortality exists between high- and low-income countries, and in most contexts, the single most common cause of maternal death is postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). In Bangladesh, as in many other low-income countries, the majority of deliveries are conducted at home by traditional birth attendants (TBAs) or family members. In the absence of skilled birth attendants, training TBAs in the use of misoprostol and an absorbent delivery mat to measure postpartum blood loss may strengthen the ability of TBAs to manage PPH. These complementary interventions were tested in operations research among 77,337 home births in rural Bangladesh. The purpose of this study was to evaluate TBAs' knowledge acquisition, knowledge retention, and changes in attitudes and practices related to PPH management in home births after undergoing training on the use of misoprostol and the blood collection delivery mat. We conclude that the training was highly effective and that the two interventions were safely and correctly used by TBAs at home births. Data on TBA practices indicate adherence to protocol, and 18 months after the interventions were implemented, TBA knowledge retention remained high. This program strengthens the case for community-based use of misoprostol and warrants consideration of this intervention as a potential model for scale-up in settings where complete coverage of skilled birth attendants (SBAs) remains a distant goal.
The largest absolute numbers of maternal deaths occur among the 40–50 million women who deliver annually without a skilled birth attendant. Most of these deaths occur in countries with a total fertility rate of greater than 4. The combination of global warming and rapid population growth in the Sahel and parts of the Middle East poses a serious threat to reproductive health and to food security. Poverty, lack of resources, and rapid population growth make it unlikely that most women in these countries will have access to skilled birth attendants or emergency obstetric care in the foreseeable future. Three strategies can be implemented to improve women’s health and reproductive rights in high-fertility, low-resource settings: (1) make family planning accessible and remove non-evidenced-based barriers to contraception; (2) scale up community distribution of misoprostol for prevention of postpartum hemorrhage and, where it is legal, for medical abortion; and (3) eliminate child marriage and invest in girls and young women, thereby reducing early childbearing.
In 1957, along with many countries in Eastern Europe, Romania liberalised its abortion law. The Soviet model of birth control made surgical abortion easily available, but put restrictions on access to modern contraceptives, leading to an exceptionally high abortion rate. By the mid-1960s there were 1 100 000 abortions performed each year in Romania, a lifetime average of 3.9 per woman, the highest number ever recorded. In October 1966, 1 year after coming to power, in an attempt to boost fertility, Romania’s communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu made abortion broadly illegal, permitting the procedure legally only under a narrow range of circumstances: for women with four or more children, over the age of 45 years, in circumstances where the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or threatened the life of the women, or in the case of congenital defect.
Published in Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care 2013: 39(1), 2-4.