Congressional briefing highlights technologies for women and children

September 30, 2009 by PATH

PATH's president and CEO discusses health technologies that address urgent global needs

Dr. Christopher Elias, PATH’s president and CEO, speaks with Dr. Sadiah Ahsan Pal of Pakistan. Photo: Stuart Hovell Photography.

On September 15, more than 100 people from Congress, US federal government agencies, and global health nongovernmental organizations gathered on Capitol Hill for a congressional briefing to address the question, “How can health technologies improve maternal, newborn, and child health?”

PATH's president and CEO, Dr. Christopher Elias, joined Richard Greene, director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Health, Infectious Diseases, and Nutrition, and Dr. Sadiah Ahsan Pal, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology in Karachi, Pakistan, to highlight the important role of technologies in improving the health of women and children in resource-poor areas. The event was cosponsored by Women’s Policy, Inc. and the Global Health Technologies Coalition.

Women of Congress show their support

Congresswomen Lois Capps (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Candice Miller (R-MI) attended the briefing and voiced their support for this important issue. Capps, co-chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus Task Force on Women’s Health, focused on maternal mortality, which she noted is almost entirely preventable. She voiced her commitment to increasing access to lifesaving technologies and her belief that doing so is not only a responsibility but a privilege—a message that others echoed throughout the briefing.

Moore, vice chairwoman of the Women’s Caucus, noted the critical role that the US government plays in setting the agenda for global health promotion and enabling the research and development of cost-effective, innovative tools, like those discussed during the briefing. Miller, who recently became a grandmother, shared her personal interest in, and experience with, maternal, child, and newborn health issues, adding a human face to the health challenges that women, children, and infants face every day.

Advancing technologies, strengthening systems, encouraging healthy behaviors

Elias shared PATH’s experience with developing and implementing technologies for women and children, framing his discussion within PATH’s mission of ensuring that health is within reach for everyone. He stressed the importance of not only advancing technologies to address the health challenges that face women and children around the world, but also strengthening health systems to increase access to these technologies in remote areas and encouraging the healthy behaviors necessary to ensure that these technologies continue to be used appropriately and effectively.

Elias highlighted PATH’s many technologies targeted toward women and children, such as theUniject® prefilled injection device. This nonreusable syringe can be prefilled with the drug oxytocin to prevent postpartum hemorrhage, the leading cause of mothers’ deaths during childbirth. It can also be filled with gentamicin, an antibiotic that treats bacterial infections that kill more than one million babies a year. Elias noted the need for continued US leadership and investment in new tools to tackle global health challenges.

USAID’s critical role in the development and delivery of tools for health

Greene, of USAID, discussed the important role of the agency in funding the development and advancement of affordable health technologies for resource-poor countries. To make the greatest impact, USAID is focusing on low-cost, scalable interventions that address the major causes of mortality and have the potential to reach the most vulnerable populations, Greene said. For this reason, it is important that the end user be engaged in every step of the process to ensure that effective interventions can be successfully scaled up.

PATH technologies such as the Uniject device and vaccine vial monitors are examples of tools that have been successfully implemented in developing countries, Greene said. He thanked organizations like PATH and countries like Pakistan for partnering with the agency to bring these technologies to those who need them most.

A message from the women of Pakistan

Ahsan sought to bring the message of the women of Pakistan to the audience on Capitol Hill. Not many people are aware of the severity of the challenges that women face in Pakistan, she noted. Even medical professionals sometimes do not comprehend how critical this issue is. Ahsan spoke from personal experience working with women and children in Pakistan—a country in which one mother dies from childbirth every 30 to 40 minutes and where 1 in every 11 children will not survive to the age of five.

Health professionals in Pakistan face serious challenges to improving health—including frequent power outages, lack of clean water, and a difficult climate for the storage of medicine. Ahsan sees new health technologies as an urgently needed solution with the potential to address a wide variety of these barriers. Safe-delivery kits can help improve the health of mothers and their newborns during a birth at home, far away from the nearest health clinic. Chlorine tablets can enable health workers to sanitize their instruments, preventing infection. Newborn resuscitation bags and maskscan prevent newborn death due to birth asphyxia, the leading cause of newborn death in Pakistan. Such health technologies, says Ahsan, are necessary to give women and their children the chance for a healthy future.

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