Congressional Briefing: How Innovative Technologies Can Improve Maternal and Child Health

On Wednesday, July 21, 2010, Dr. Edmund Rutta, Country Program Manager for the Strengthening Pharmaceutical Systems (SPS) Program, presented at the Management Sciences for Health (MSH), Global Health Council, and PATH Congressional Briefing entitled "Reaching Women and Children with Innovative Technologies." The event was held in conjunction with Representatives Albio Sires (NJ), Brian Baird (WA), Betty McCollum (MN), Barbara Lee (CA), Adam Smith (WA), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), and Jim McDermott (WA) to a full standing room of over 100 guests, including two Members of Congress. 

Dr. Rutta drew on his experiences with pharmaceutical systems in Tanzania to highlight the importance of an innovative health delivery model that ensures access to safe and efficacious medicines and pharmaceutical services. Through the Accredited Drug Dispensing Outlets (ADDO) Program, the Tanzanian government, with technical assistance from MSH, successfully harnessed the private market and transformed private drug sellers into regulated and trained dispensers that provide needed health services in underserved populations. More than 1,700 outlets have been established to date. ADDO implementation has also led to two other positive effects: (1) improved economic opportunities for women, many of whom serve as ADDO owners and dispensers, and (2) provision of  a platform to increase access to public health services, such as family planning and maternal and child care. ADDO has creatively combined business incentives, regulation, standards, health interventions, and economic opportunities to create a sustainable public-private health system model, which has attracted regional interest in countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Liberia, Ethiopia, and Southern Sudan.

Paul LaBarre, Allen Wilcox, and Dr. Lily Kak joined Dr. Rutta for an engaging conversation about the importance of context and cost, the different technologies employed in the field, and the USAID process of finding and encouraging innovative technologies. 

Paul LaBarre, Technical Officer, Technology Solutions, PATH, opened the discussion by emphasizing the importance of utilizing context appropriate, cost-effective health technologies given the infrastructural and distribution challenges faced in many developing areas. He cited, for example, that a refrigerator to store blood located in an area with only 12 hours of electricity per day was not the best use of technology despite the refrigerator being energy efficient.

Allen Wilcox, President of VillageReach, spoke about the importance of improving logistics and supply chains not only to strengthen health systems, but also to maintain the trust of community members. He highlighted VillageReach's use of technology in its data collection model, which sends field coordinators to track and map health information in areas with limited or nonexistent phone and internet connections. It trains health workers and restocks drug dispensaries once per month, allowing all levels of health care system to be connected. 

Dr. Lily Kak, Newborn and Maternal Health Advisor, USAID, brought an overarching USAID perspective on the 3-D Approach (delivery and expansion of interventions, development and strengthening of health systems, and identification of social and behavioral determinations) utilized by the agency to seek out new, innovative technologies and approaches that are not only cost-effective and sustainable, but also context appropriate.

This was the second event in a new Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health series by MSH in partnership with the Global Health Council and PATH.

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