Against all odds: Meeting maternal, newborn, and child health needs in the DRC

Kristin Cooney. (Photo courtesy K. Cooney)

Kristin Cooney. (Photo courtesy K. Cooney)

by Kristin Cooney

I had the pleasure of presenting stories and results from a successful DRC project on Tuesday, May 28, day one of Women Deliver 2013.

The USAID-funded Integrated Health Project (IHP) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), implemented by Management Sciences for Health, the International Rescue Committee and Overseas Strategic Consulting, Ltd, is creating better conditions for, and increasing the availability and use of high-impact health services, products, and practices in 80 health zones in four provinces (Kasaï Occidental, Kasaï Oriental, Katanga, and Sud Kivu.

IHP addresses three major bottlenecks hampering the performance of health services: (1) poor availability of medicines and essential inputs related to supply chain management; (2) limited availability of qualified human resources to implement high-impact interventions for the health of the mother and the child; and (3) low quality of care.

Audience members participate in a Q&A with the panelists. (Photo: R. Hassinger/MSH)

Audience members participate in a Q&A with the panelists. (Photo: R. Hassinger/MSH)

Although working in a fragile state where instability persists, IHP applies a development approach that demonstrates that, even against many odds, health programs can achieve results in challenging settings—they just need to be innovative and persistent to achieve their goals.

Using a range of high-impact practices and approaches in maternal, neonatal, and child health and family planning that were selected through careful analysis, including use of the Lives Saved Tool (LiST)—such as integrated services, Leadership Development Programs, fully-functional service delivery points, and a range of behavior change communication approaches (i.e. mHealth and Champion Communities)—IHP has achieved impressive results in fistula care, family planning, rates of assisted delivery, and active management of the third stage of labor, among other health indicators.

DRC-IHP

An important focus of the program is counseling women and families on healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies at health center and community level. Community-based distribution of family planning methods is improving contraceptive security and promoting a range of modern contraceptive methods and includes training and supporting community workers to deliver family planning and to refer and accompany couples to health centers to choose a contraceptive method.

Selected findings include:

  • Couple years of protection as of March 2013 was 122,523, which is 111% of the target of 110,000.
  • New acceptors of family planning as of March 2013 was 136,302, or 113% of the target of 120,728.
  • As of December 2013, the percent of women receiving Active Management of the Third Stage of Labor, at 84%, was 105% of the target of 80%.

IHP is getting the right commodities into the right, competent hands at the right time to produce impressive results, against all odds.

Kristin Cooney is a director, country portfolio, at MSH.

Stop Women From Dying: A Personal Reflection on Ending the Cervical Cancer Crisis

Shannon EnglandAt the Global Cervical Cancer Forum Monday, May 27, before the official start of Women Deliver 2013, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my family.

My aunt was diagnosed with cervical cancer when I was a student at university. At the time, she was pregnant with her second child. A little over a year after finding out she had cancer, she died.

She was only 31.

She left behind a newborn baby and an infant son—along with a devastated family who could not imagine how to move on from the death of their wife, daughter and sister. My cousins had to grow up without a mother.  And I could not understand how my “cool aunt”—the one who wore bell bottoms and introduced my “traditional” Midwestern family to the “radical” concepts of meditation and vegetarianism—could suddenly be gone.

We did not know back then that cervical cancer was caused by a sexually transmitted virus, HPV. We’ve come a long way since then. Today there is a vaccine can prevent HPV, prevent cervical cancer, and prevent women from dying.

Despite the proven technological advances and 70 percent efficacy, too many women and girls are not getting the vaccine. Some do not have access to it because they live in places where the vaccine is unavailable or too expensive. Some are thwarted by soundless fears that giving the vaccine to girls will increase promiscuity—despite research proving otherwise. For most women and girls, the story ends there: the virus is harmless. But some of the unlucky ones will later develop cervical cancer. And sadly, some of them, like my aunt, will die. The HPV virus is very common—and without intervention—the odds are high that women will become infected.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I’m extremely proud to be working for MSH, an organization which, together with our partner, USAID, supports Ministries of Health in Uganda and Ethiopia in offering integrated basic screening and treatment services for cervical cancer. I’m hopeful we can expand to more countries as donor funding increases. I’m thrilled that the costs of HPV vaccines have gone down—so that future generations of girls and women around the world may never even need treatment. And I’m convinced that it will take all of us working together and spreading the word in our communities to combat myths about cervical cancer and the vaccine.

It is time to stop women from dying.

Because kids should never lose a Mom — or families a beloved aunt — from a disease we can prevent.

Shannon England is vice president of strategic development and communications at MSH.

Read more about our work in chronic diseases.