05/17/2013 01:25 pm ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Why Delegates at the World Health Assembly Should Double Down on 13

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The number 13 has long been linked to a belief of bad luck and misfortune. Well, today that superstition has changed. More importantly, if we do right by the number 13, we have the potential to save six million women and children over the next five years.

How is that possible? Thirteen is the number of life-saving medicines and health supplies that will have maximum impact in the survival of women and children in mostly poor countries.

As part of Every Woman Every Child, the women and child health initiative launched in 2010 by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, technical experts got together to define this list of overlooked life-saving medicines and health supplies and to identify barriers preventing their access and use. The convening body, the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities, is led by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Norwegian Prime Minister Jen Stoltenberg. The Commission focuses its work in 50 of the poorest countries that account for more than 80 percent of all maternal and child deaths.

The 13 identified medicines, medical devices, and health supplies, if more widely accessed and properly used, could significantly reduce preventable deaths among women and children and improve their health from before potential pregnancy, to delivery, during the immediate post-delivery period, and childbirth. Experts estimate we can save six million lives.

According to the Commission, the main types of barriers preventing women and children from accessing and using these life-saving medicines and health supplies are: affordable products, formulations safe for children, weak supply chains, inadequate regulatory capacity at country level to protect people from sub-standard or counterfeit products that can cause harm, and lack of awareness of how, why and when to use these commodities.

To address these challenges and to deliver on the promise of saving the lives of millions of women and children, the Commission recommended 10 time-bound actions. These actions focus on the need for improved global and local markets, innovative financing, quality strengthening, regulatory efficiency, improved national delivery of commodities, and better integration of private sector and consumer needs. By coming together to identify common barriers and to share the best practices for overcoming them, the Commission is proving the value of crowd sourcing key development challenges.

For example, last year a new partnership made contraception available to more than 27 million women in the world's poorest nations. Under the agreement, Bayer is reducing by more than half the current $18 price of its long-acting, reversible method of contraception, Jadelle, in return for a commitment to assure funding for at least 27 million contraceptive devices over the next six years. Recently, a new innovative financing partnership was designed to increase the availability and predictability of funding from international donors for health commodities. The Pledge Guarantee for Health leverages $100 million in credit from commercial banking partners which, in turn, extend short-term credit to traditional donor aid recipients. In the last 1,000 days of the Millennium Development Goals, these types of partnerships will accelerate collective action.

Next week at the World Health Assembly, delegates will consider a resolution that promotes robust monitoring and evaluation on progress achieved towards the Commission's recommendations at global and country-level. Included in the resolution is a requirement that an annual report be submitted by the Director General to the World Health Assembly until 2015. Delegates have an opportunity to accelerate implementation of the Commission's recommendations by supporting this resolution.

Doubling down on 13 could benefit the lives of six million women and children. We all have a role to play in this effort. Use your voice to influence change by tweeting #supplylife or by sharing information about the work of the Commission.