MSD (known as Merck in the U.S. and Canada) has announced that Jhpiego, an international non-profit health organization based in the Philippines, is a recipient of the MSD for Mothers Global Grants program that is dedicated to reducing maternal mortality in locations where there is the greatest need.
In support of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 to eradicate preventable maternal deaths worldwide, MSD for Mothers is a $500 million global initiative to help create a world where no woman has to die while giving life.
Contributing MSD’s business, scientific and financial resources, MSD for Mothers collaborates across sectors to improve the health and well-being of women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.
Before the pandemic, according to a recent study by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) and the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), 2,600 Filipino mothers were dying every year from complications from pregnancy and childbirth, which are preventable conditions.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, disadvantaged women face a new set of challenges and limitations that result in delays and decline in checkups, disruption of medical services, and problems accessing modern contraception. This predicament could further increase the incidence of maternal mortality by 26% or up to 670 additional deaths from 2019, and of unintended pregnancies to 2.56 million by the end of 2020.
“We at MSD take a holistic approach to addressing the many factors that impact maternal health and strive to leverage the private sector for public good, hence we are very proud of the Philippines’ inclusion once again in our MSD for Mothers program as it also comes at a critical juncture when Filipina mothers’ challenges are compounded by the limitations and threats presented by the pandemic.” says Dr. Beaver Tamesis, President and Managing Director of MSD in the Philippines.
With grantee organization Jhpiego, an international non-profit health group dedicated to improving the health of women and families since the 1980s, the project MSD for Mothers is supporting will focus on maternal health care improvement efforts in Sorsogon, the fourth most populous province in Bicol, within the duration of 3 years.
“We are optimistic that the MSD for Mothers Global Grants program will further help the Philippines accelerate its progress towards the SDGs by improving population health outcomes and increasing access to improved maternal health care. More so, we hope that through this partnership, we reinforce our commitment and support to the country’s move towards Universal Health Care (UHC),” Dr. Tamesis emphasizes.
In collaboration with the national and local government, the program aims to enhance maternity care in 18 public and private health facilities in one district in Sorsogon, while also establishing an effective referral network to increase timely response to obstetric emergencies. Sorsogon is one of the two provinces in the Bicol Region that is a UHC integration site. It is committed to strengthening the provincial health system through having a functional health network and center of excellence facilities.
UHC is both a vision and a commitment to the health of all Filipinos by providing a full range of high-quality health care services – from preventive to promotive, curative, rehabilitative, and palliative – at affordable cost. The signing of the UHC Act in 2019 is a remarkable achievement as it marks the beginning of a new chapter in the reform of the Philippine health system.
Mother and Baby Alive
Especially in the developing world, one of the major challenges in the delivery of quality maternal care is that health care providers at community health centers fear or hesitate to contact providers at the hospital level for guidance. But this lack of coordination between levels of care puts women at great risk since patients already in serious condition will then arrive at higher-level facilities where the hospital staff and facilities have not been adequately prepared to receive them.
“It’s so important to address these barriers if we are serious about saving these mothers. This is why the MSD grant is a big step forward.” says Dr. Ingrid Magnata, Jhpiego’s country lead in the Philippines, “We also want to ensure that that our efforts can be sustained for the long-term and that our partner health facilities will continue to maintain higher levels of quality. By project end, our target district will serve as a model for other districts in Sorsogon and other provinces.”
The action plan involves operationalizing quality systems and nurturing a culture of respect in health facilities, strengthening data-recording and emergency responses, establishing increased coverage of evidence-based interventions, and building local government capacity within the referral network.
Power to the Women
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Supporting female empowerment in the area of reproductive health is paramount because the woman’s ability or inability to make decisions concerning her fertility and well-being has a profound impact on fundamental issues in life. Within the reproductive period, maternal deaths, unplanned pregnancies, abortion, and HIV can occur. On the other hand, pregnancy and childbirth represent a significant window of opportunity to create long-term trust and partnership between women and healthcare workers through the delivery of respectful and high-quality care.
In the Philippines, many women have little to no access to information, safe contraceptive methods, and quality maternal healthcare. Seeking to address this inequality, MSD for Mothers and the Zuellig Family Foundation launched in 2013 the first collaboration in Asia through MSD for Mothers, which aimed to ameliorate maternal health disparities in the geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas in Samar and Northern Samar provinces.
Working women also received attention given their invaluable contribution to their families and the economy. In 2014, the United Nations Foundation, with support from MSD for Mothers, launched Business Action for Family Planning Access (BAFP) in the country to help support employees both inside and out of the workplace. The project was able to provide some 1.2 million women across the archipelago with comprehensive family planning information and on-site health services.
Holistic, Health-Seeking Solutions
To date, MSD for Mothers have reached more than 13 million women in more than 50 global sites around the world. In Asia-Pacific, including the Philippines, grantees facilitate safe birth practices, strengthen midwifery education, improve access to family planning, and promote health-seeking behaviors, among others.
For 130 years globally, and 26 years in the Philippines MSD has been “Inventing for Life”. This commitment entails pursuing far-reaching policies, programs, and partnerships that improve the patients’ and the populations’ ability to obtain life-saving medicines and vaccines for many of the world's most challenging diseases.
From providing access to quality care using innovative digital tools, to education focused on the maternal and reproductive rights of women in low and lower-middle-income groups, these high-impact activities will be supported with grant funding to contribute to better health outcomes overall and promote equity and inclusion in society. Dr. Tamesis summarizes the implications:
“The benefits of ending preventable maternal mortality extend far beyond maternal health. Working with governments, patient groups, professional associations, entrepreneurs, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations like Jhpiego, we hope to empower women, equip health providers and strengthen health systems in our collective effort to potentially transform our world – when a woman survives, her children, family, community and nation thrive for generations.”