The new frontier of community health care: Health huts in Senegal use misoprostol and oxytocin in Uniject to prevent postpartum hemorrhage
Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.
While Senegal, a coastal West African country, has made considerable progress in decreasing maternal mortality since 1990, it still grapples with high rates of preventable maternal death. Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH)—excessive, uncontrolled bleeding—remains the leading cause of maternal death in Senegal and around the world. In areas of Senegal where there is still a high prevalence of unattended deliveries, women may not have the means to manage PPH or other life-threatening complications.
Regardless of where they give birth, all women need access to uterus-contracting drugs, or uterotonics, for the prevention and treatment of PPH. The recommended uterotonic, injectable oxytocin, requires cold storage and technical skill to administer; oxytocin is also available as a Uniject® device—a pre-filled, single dose, non-reusable injection—which is easier to administer. Misoprostol is a safe and effective alternative in low-resources settings where oxytocin isn’t available or feasible; it doesn’t need refrigeration and is easy to use—particularly important in the absence of a skilled birth attendant.
Between June 2012 and August 2013, Gynuity Health Projects, ChildFund Senegal, the USAID Community Health Program, and the Senegalese government’s Directorate of Reproductive and Child Health implemented a study to compare community-level administration of oral misoprostol and oxytocin in Uniject® to prevent PPH. One of the two interventions was assigned to each of 28 participating community health huts, one- or two-room concrete structures that bring basic healthcare closer to the communities. Project implementers trained matrones, volunteer birth attendants, to assist with deliveries and administer the designated intervention.
Communities played an integral part in encouraging the use of misoprostol and oxytocin. Community members assisted in identifying pregnant women for initial prenatal check-ups, and project staff recruited women by visiting them in their communities.
Since the launch of the project, over 1300 women received either 600 mg (3 tablets) of misoprostol or 10 IU oxytocin via Uniject® intramuscularly for PPH prevention. Both medicines were effective, and the matrones could manage all side effects, which included chills, tremors and fever. Among all the women who received prophylaxis, only one case of postpartum hemorrhage occurred.
“Before this study, we saw a lot of women with heavy bleeding, and it was always difficult to arrange transportation for referrals [to health facilities],” said Fatou Diouf, a matrone from the Koulouk Mbada hut. “Now, we do not see any hemorrhage after delivery.”
Chief nurse Amadou Gueye from the Ndiaganiao health post noted a similar outcome: “Since the start of the study, we have not seen a single case of PPH.”
As a result of the project, home births decreased from 10% to 1%, project leaders effectively maintained drug stocks, health providers demonstrated commitment and motivation, and the matrones administered medications and filled out data management tools successfully. Birth attendance at the community health huts improved because women sought delivery services in order to benefit from a PPH medication.
“When I came to deliver this morning, the matrone asked me if I wanted to take the three tablets. I said yes,” said Mariama Niang who had recently given birth at the Koulouk Mbada health hut. “I bled less than I did in previous deliveries when I bled a lot and had lots of dizziness. […] now, I am doing well.”
In Senegal where access to health facilities may be limited in remote areas, the community health hut system can play an important role in preventing and treating PPH. According to the study, both misoprostol and oxytocin in Uniject® proved to be equally effective and safe in preventing PPH, and matrones posted at the health huts were capable of administering their assigned medicine. Whereas standard oxytocin injections require specialized skills, misoprostol and oxytocin in Uniject® are viable options at the community level. These health interventions can empower communities to protect women’s health and prevent unnecessary maternal death.
Through research and advocacy, Family Care International (FCI) is working with Gynuity Health Projects to support increased access to and availability of misoprostol for prevention and treatment of PPH. Learn more about FCI and Gynuity’s work to make misoprostol available to women around the globe.