Direct Relief’s Kirchmaier Volunteer Center was standing room only Friday morning, March 8, as more than 150 people gathered in honor of International Women’s Day to celebrate achievements and acknowledge remaining hurdles, including the lack of global access to affordable maternal health care. This year’s theme was “balance for better — the better the balance, the better the world.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” said Dr. Jessica Grossman, CEO of Medicines360, “There’s no better way to create balance than to give women access to affordable contraception.”
The event was hosted by Direct Relief Women, a volunteer group formed nine years ago to focus on championing maternal and child health-care programs. It highlighted Direct Relief’s unprecedented partnership with Medicines360, a mission-driven pharmaceutical nonprofit focused on women’s health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hormonal IUDs are 99.8 percent effective. Medicines360 has developed the hormonal IUDs Avibela and Liletta, which cost about $50 — $950 less than their competitors. Due to their innovation, the most effective contraception is now no longer the most expensive.
However, as Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe said, “Inventing a product does not create access to a product.” More than 19 million American women live in “contraceptive deserts” where they have no access to clinics providing the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods.
Direct Relief has collaborated with Medicines360 to distribute their patented IUDs for free to select clinics around the U.S. that serve women who could not otherwise obtain it.
“This is the first time we have had the ability to do a long-term, sustained program for women’s reproductive health,” said Paulina Ospina, Direct Relief’s senior program director.
Grossman said money remaining after program expenses is reinvested back into the company through education and other needed areas.
“We are about patients, not profits,” she said. “We don’t answer to shareholders; we answer to the public.” Their goal is to increase the accessibility of effective contraception for women because, Grossman explained, unplanned pregnancies are often associated with lifelong health, economic, and societal difficulties. Women benefit on multiple levels from access to affordable contraceptives, which can create a positive ripple effect in their communities and local economies.