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Catharine Taylor, center, director of PATH’s Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition program, talks with guests Linda Wright and Daniel Singer of the National Institutes of Health after the discussion. Photo: PATH.

Engaging local communities in the development and introduction of lifesaving technologies is crucial to their success, PATH experts told health professionals during a panel discussion on July 30. More than 35 maternal, newborn, and child health professionals gathered in PATH’s Washington, DC, office for an informal conversation about the role of technologies in improving health for women and their children in resource-poor areas. The event was part of PATH’s Conversations in Global Health, a series of discussions connecting advocates, policymakers, and partners with PATH global health experts.

Health tools to address systems challenges

The panelists described challenges and the lessons they have learned in the development and delivery of health technologies for women and children.

Catharine Taylor, director of PATH’s Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition program, discussed the essential role current and future tools can play in overcoming health systems challenges in low-resource settings. Healthy behaviors and functioning health systems are necessary to address the major causes of maternal, newborn, and child mortality, Taylor explained. Technology is not a “silver bullet” that will provide a total solution, she noted. However, it plays a key role in weakened systems by meeting mothers’ and children’s needs for routine care and addressing crucial issues such as malnutrition. Taylor stressed the variety of ways technology can improve lives around the world, from preventing and treating emergency situations to addressing specific health needs within systems.

Dipika Matthias, who leads PATH’s Ultra Rice® project, spoke of the barriers to addressing malnutrition in poor countries and emphasized the policy, regulatory, and systems changes necessary to bring about large-scale change. As an example, she described the policy and regulatory changes involved in introducing Ultra Rice technology—an extruded rice-shaped grain fortified with micronutrients that is mixed with traditional rice—into developing countries to provide communities with nutrients that their local diets may lack. Matthias also highlighted the challenge of delivering temperature-sensitive vaccines to women and children in remote areas and shared the success story of PATH’s vaccine vial monitors that signal health workers when vaccine has been damaged due to heat exposure.

Technologies reach mothers in remote areas

Steve Brooke, a commercialization advisor with PATH’s Technology Solutions program, discussed the lack of access to facilities that many mothers and their children face in developing countries. He highlighted a solution that combines two technologies developed by PATH: the Uniject® prefilled injection device and the vaccine vial monitor. The Uniject device can be prefilled with a variety of medicines, including the drug oxytocin, which can prevent postpartum hemorrhage. The vaccine vial monitor—a small sticker affixed to a vial of vaccine—tells health workers whether temperature-sensitive vaccines and drugs, including oxytocin, have become unusable due to exposure to heat.

Brooke described a pilot study in Mali that brought this easy-to-use combination of the oxytocin-filled Uniject device and vaccine vial monitors to midwifery assistants in remote areas of the country. The study results stimulated a key policy change: the government of Mali now allows midwifery assistants and other unskilled health workers to administer doses of oxytocin, allowing the medicine to be effectively delivered to women in emergency situations and remote locations.

About Conversations in Global Health

Conversations in Global Health is an ongoing forum for dialogue with PATH experts and partners on select global health issues and challenges. To learn more about the series, please emailadvocacy@path.org

More information

Ultra Rice is a registered trademark in the United States of Bon Dente International, Inc.
Uniject is a registered trademark of BD.

Posted August 12, 2009.