Erik Schouten

Frieda Komba, a licensed drug dispenser in Tanzania. {Photo credit: MSH.}Photo credit: MSH.

Each year over 10 million men, women, and children in developing countries die as a result of our collective failure to deliver available safe, affordable, and proven prevention and treatment. A recent analysis of innovations in products and practices for global health, from the Hepatitis B vaccine to use of skilled birth attendants, revealed virtually none of these life-saving interventions reaches much more than half their target population—even after as many as 28 years of availability. This reflects a vast gap between knowledge and action in global health.

Successful Health Systems Innovations

Low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) benefit from continued innovations in health products and health practices, such as use of misoprostol to prevent post-partum hemorrhage, and technologies such as internet-based mHealth applications to protect the poor from catastrophic health expenditures.  To ensure such innovations achieve large-scale, widespread coverage, they must be accompanied by much more effective health systems innovations.

We know how to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. But without intervention nearly 40 percent of mothers with HIV/AIDS in developing countries will transmit the virus to their newborns.

Mother and children, Salima, Malawi, April 2011

Malawi leads the developing world as the first to propose an approach to prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV that addresses the health of the mother. Recently my MSH colleague Erik Schouten and his colleagues in Malawi wrote a commentary in the Lancet about Malawi’s innovative, public health approach to PMTCT. Malawi calls its model “B+” because it complements the World Health Organization’s (WHO) B option, whereby a mother’s CD4 cell count, a measure of the volume of HIV circulating in her blood, determines her eligibility for lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).

I’d like to call attention to an important set of articles in the recent HIV/AIDS themed issue of The Lancet. Erik Schouten of Malawi Basic Support for Institutionalizing Child Survival (BASICS) has published a commentary (free registration required) about Malawi’s push to be the first country to implement a “B+” approach to reducing mother to child transmission.

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