New Research: How pharmaceutical companies address access to maternal and reproductive health

Access to maternal and reproductive health

Every day, an estimated 800 women die during pregnancy and childbirth due to preventable causes – most of whom live in developing countries. Today, the Access to Medicine Foundation publishes the first landscape study of pharmaceutical companies’ responses to MDG 5 to help improve this situation.

This study can be used as a baseline for monitoring whether and how the pharmaceutical industry is contributing to the improvement of maternal and reproductive health, says Jayasree K. Iyer, Head of Research at the Access to Medicine Foundation. As we look toward the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals later this year, rigorous monitoring and assessment of these initiatives and their relative merits, together with experienced partners, will continue to be crucial for identifying what works and what needs to be adapted.

Role for the pharmaceutical industry

The potential role for pharmaceutical companies in this area centres on a few key health priorities, particularly R&D gaps that relate to the specific needs of women living in developing countries. For example, the development of heat-stable oxytocin for preventing excessive bleeding during childbirth would reduce the need for complex cold-chains. Beyond developing and adapting products, pharmaceutical companies can contribute in several other areas. Capacity building is particularly important in low-resource countries where small, low-cost interventions can have a significant impact on care and health outcomes. Plus, pharmaceutical companies have a responsibility to ensure products are equitably priced.

Commitments and action

Titled “Improving maternal health and access to contraceptives: pharmaceutical companies contribution to MDG 5″ , the study analyses pharmaceutical companies’ commitments and actions in response to Millennium Development Goal 5, which sets targets toward reducing the maternal mortality ratio and achieving universal access to reproductive healthcare. It uses data submitted by 20 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies for the 2014 Access to Medicine Index. The Index is an independent initiative that ranks these companies according to what they are doing for the millions of people in developing countries who do not have reliable access to medicine.


  • Five of the six companies with relevant products are making public commitments and taking some action, together with others

Ten pharmaceutical companies are implementing a variety of initiatives to improve access to maternal health and family planning. Seven of them have also publically committed to tackling this issue. Notably, five of these companies are implementing initiatives even though they have no relevant products on the market. In total, six of the 20 companies analysed have products on the market that are relevant to maternal and reproductive health. Between them, they have 37 products, including a large proportion of contraceptive methods (18 in total, from four companies).

  • Pharmaceutical companies are implementing a wide variety of relevant initiatives; all involve partners and the majority focus on local capacity building

The ten companies are implementing 28 relevant initiatives in total. All involve partners, such as international organisations, NGOs or governments, and most are either new since 2012 or have been recently expanded. The few R&D initiatives all target the development of heat-stable oxytocin to curb excessive bleeding during childbirth. While this is a high-priority R&D gap for women living in developing countries, significant R&D needs remain unaddressed. 25% of initiatives include action on pricing: seven initiatives, from five companies, mostly relating to contraceptives. 10 initiatives, from 5 companies, are aligned with the core business of the company in question, making them more likely to be sustainable longer term.

Read the Study in full here.

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About the Access to Medicine Foundation

The Access to Medicine Foundation is a non-profit organisation based in the Netherlands. It aims to advance access to medicine in low- and middle-income countries by stimulating and guiding the pharmaceutical industry to play a greater role in improving access to medicine. The Foundation is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UK Department for International Development. For ten years, the Foundation has been building consensus on the role for the pharmaceutical industry in improving access to medicine and vaccines. It published its first benchmark of industry activity in this area in 2008, in the first Access to Medicine Index. The fifth Access to Medicine Index will be published in 2016.