Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). UNICEF estimates that 11 Filipino mothers die every day, or an estimated 4,500 every year due to birth-related causes. That's more than 10 newborns every day who are left without their mothers to care for them at birth.
The number one cause is severe postpartum bleeding, and it is a serious global concern. However, there might just be a simple and inexpensive solution, at least to stop mothers from bleeding profusely after welcoming their baby into this world.
Results of a new clinical trial, which was published in the Lancet medical journal, shows that a single injection could help save new moms' lives. The drug, called tranexamic acid, stops blood clots from breaking down and is already available over the counter for women who suffer from heavy periods.
The WOMAN (World Maternal Antifibrinolytic) Trial was conducted in 193 hospitals in 21 countries around the word and involves 20,000 women who were at risk of postpartum hemorrhage. Random patients were given tranexamic acid via injecting it directly into their veins, along with the necessary procedures doctors would normally do to stop the bleeding.
Researchers found that the risk of death from bleeding was down to 20 percent for the women who received tranexamic compared to those who did not get the drug. Results also show that if the medicine was given to the patient within three hours at the onset of bleeding, the risk of death was even further reduced by 31 percent. The findings also show that giving tranexamic acid reduces the need for urgent surgery to control bleeding (laparotomy) by 36 percent.
"We now have important evidence that the early use of tranexamic acid can save women’s lives and ensure more children grow up with a mother. It’s safe, affordable and easy to administer, and we hope that doctors will use it as early as possible following the onset of severe bleeding after childbirth," Haleema Shakur, associate professor of clinical trials at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said in a press release.
Tranexamic acid was invented in the 1960s by a Japanese husband and wife research team, Shosuke and Utako Okamoto. It is being used as a skin whitener in Japan, and more recently, it was discovered to help reduce the risk of bleeding to death in trauma patients in 2010. It's already in the global list of essential medicines that should be available to everyone.
According to The Washington Post, the WHO already recommends tranexamic acid to be given if other efforts to control bleeding fail, but this new remarkable study could potentially change that. Shakur, who is also the project director on the WOMAN Trial, tells The Guardianthat the drug has shown no side effects, which could make it possible that pregnant women who are at risk for hemorrhage be given the drug in tablet form before they give birth to avert birth complications.
While the drug is already available in tablet or capsule form, it works faster when given intravenously. The challenge now is to find other ways to administer tranexamic acid for moms in far-flung places who have no access to hospitals. Based on the 2016 drug price index of our Department of Health (DOH), the tranexamic acid in capsule form is already available here in the Philippines, although no data is available if it’s widely used as a drug to treat postpartum hemorrhage.
It is a giant leap in healthcare and a win for all moms and babies not just in developed and a developing country like ours. “We have to make sure tranexamic acid is available wherever a woman gives birth and is at risk,” Shakur said.