New PPP takes birth control innovation to scale

A new public-private partnership aims to make injectable contraceptives available to 69 of the poorest countries in the world. Photo by: Ricardo A / CC BY-NC-ND

A new initiative to expand injectable contraceptive use to 69 of the world’s poorest countries could provide a model for future global health partnership and innovation, global health experts argue.

U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer took its widely used injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera and repackaged it for the developing world, while other organizations across the public and private sectors provided funding, medical training and transportation to ensure access to rural areas. The consortium combines the resources of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, UNFPA, PATH and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, among others.

“In my memory I don’t think we have introduced any other contraceptive in the way we have introduced this one with such a broad partnership,” Jagdish Upadhay, a commodity security branch chief at UNFPA, told Devex.

The injection is already available in Burkina Faso, Uganda, Senegal and Niger. Each dose, administered by a health worker, costs $1 and is subsidized by the consortium. The expansion aims to work with governments to eventually integrate the drug into the local market for women to purchase and inject themselves.

“Public-private initiatives in R&D have been not only a good way to work together, but it’s indispensable given the various needs and market dynamics of the poorest places in the world,” Ariel Pablos-Mendez, USAID’s assistant administrator for global health, told Devex.

Injectable birth control is a widely used family planning method among women in developing countries, where the mortality rate for maternal illnesses and complications can be as high as one in 15.

“This is a very good example of this collaboration, with Pfizer contributing the product and some of the R&D, PATH developing novel technology for the introduction of these products, working with the Gates Foundation for new financing, and ourselves at USAID for the introduction of this product at scale in countries,” Pablos-Mendez added.

The contraceptive, called Sayana Press, is a single-use injection which prevents pregnancy for 13 weeks. The drug functions like other injectable contraceptives in the Pfizer portfolio, but is packaged for easy transport and disposal, with the syringe and medicine encased in plastic, dispensed by pressing an air-filled bubble.

“Pfizer saw an opportunity to address the needs of women living in hard-to-reach areas, and specifically enhanced the product’s technology with public health in mind,” John Young, president of Pfizer’s Global Established Pharma business, told Devex adding that the collaboration could be “a model for other medicines.”

An early July roll out  in Burkina Faso found that in two of the targeted 23 districts, 5,729 women are now using Sayana Press, 1,659 of whom are new to family planning. Pfizer and partner organizations announced the expansion of the initial introduction on Thursday and expressed their confidence in the drug’s long-term success.

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Healthy Means is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Concern Worldwide, Gavi, GlaxoSmithKline, International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Johnson & Johnson and the United Nations Population Fund to showcase new ideas and ways we can work together to expand health care and live better lives.

About the author

  • Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

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