Despite the fact that emergency contraception has been available for more than 30 years, women across the globe have remained largely unaware of this important option and lack access to the products, as well as the information to use EC effectively. This has been particularly true in developing countries.
In response to this situation, the Rockefeller Foundation convened a meeting in 1995 to discuss emergency contraception. Soon after this meeting, a group of seven international organizations working in the field of family planning formed the Consortium for Emergency Contraception and set out to demonstrate that this “second chance” contraceptive could become a part of mainstream reproductive health care worldwide. The Consortium’s mission was especially compelling given the stark reality that many unplanned pregnancies in developing countries result in illegal abortion, exacting a huge toll on women’s health and well being.
The Seven Original Members
- The Concept Foundation
- International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)
- Pacific Institute for Women’s Health
- Pathfinder International
- PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health)
- Population Council
- World Health Organization Special Programme of Research, Development, and Research Training in Human Reproduction (WHO/HRP)
The Consortium’s Unique Collaborative Approach
The Consortium’s approach to collaboration broke new ground on several fronts.
First, never before had a group of organizations come together around this compelling health issue, formed a plan to address it, and gone to donors seeking support. The seven original members brought together expertise in product registration, contraceptive introduction and service delivery, training, communication, and research.
A second unique feature of the collaboration was the fact that no single member agency took the lead. Consortium activities have been managed by independent coordinators; the first was Sharon Camp, Ph.D., whose vision of expanded access to emergency contraception and resourceful fundraising ensured a successful Consortium launch.
The Consortium undertook several key activities:
- Courting the Commercial Sector: “Creating” a Product
- Introducing EC in Four Countries
- Developing Model Materials and Resources
Courting the Commercial Sector: “Creating” a Product
When the Consortium was founded, very few EC products existed and they were available in only a handful of European countries. As a result, most groups working to introduce emergency contraceptive services focused on instructing providers and women how to use special doses of regular birth control pills for contraception (known as the “Yuzpe” regimen). This approach was confusing and left women and providers wondering if EC was a legitimate method; it was also challenging to market without a specific product or brand name.
The Consortium set out to convince a manufacturer to make a product available to women, particularly those in developing countries. After discussions with a number of manufacturers, the Concept Foundation, on behalf of the Consortium, signed an agreement with Gedeon Richter, a Hungarian firm. Gedeon-Richter agreed to produce a new product, Postinor-2, with the Consortium providing input into labeling and packaging; the agreement included provisions for preferential public-sector pricing.
Since Postinor-2 was launched, it has been registered in over 40 countries. In addition, as the Consortium predicted, the introduction of EC in selected countries (below) demonstrated that there was a market for EC. In response, a number of other manufacturers have now entered the market. Now women in over 140 countries can buy emergency contraception pills (ECPs) and in more than 60 countries, ECPs are readily available over the counter.
Introducing EC in Four Countries
The seven Consortium member agencies chose four demonstration countries for EC introduction: Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Sri Lanka. These country introduction experiences are described here.
The Consortium developed a nine-step framework for the introduction process; learn more about the Consortium’s strategy for introducing EC here.
Developing Model Materials and Resources
The Consortium and our member agencies continue to develop and update numerous resources and materials to help increase access to EC, such as Medical and Service Delivery Guidelines, Policy Statements, and a searchable database of information about EC availability at the country level.
Expansion: the Consortium Today
As interest in emergency contraception and the Consortium grew, the Consortium changed its name to the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception (ICEC) and expanded its membership to include a wide range of organizations and individuals working to ensure that women have access to all forms of emergency contraception (see a list of current member organizations here). All interested individuals are welcome to join our news lists, and more than 3,000 people from over 140 countries are currently involved with the Consortium. The Consortium membership meets annually, and the Coordinator works with several regional groups working to expand access to EC.