An 'unacceptably high' number of mums die during childbirth -- and a $1 drug could change that

An “
unacceptably high” number of women die from conditions related to childbirth and pregnancy, according to the World Health Organisation. In 2015, 303,000 women died from such complications  — and for the most part, those deaths could have been prevented. 
One of the leading causes of maternal death is severe bleeding after giving birth, also known as post-partum hemorrhage.

But a drug developed in the 1960s has been found to reduce the number of those deaths in new mothers. Tranexamic acid is a blood-clotting agent used in everything from soldier’s wounds to dental surgery. It can cost as little as $US1 a dose.

The treatment was originally developed in the 1960s by Utako Okamoto, along with her husband Shosuke. According to The New York Times, the couple hoped the drug would be used to prevent hemorrhages at birth, but at the time a clinical trial never got underway. 

 Starting in 2010, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine coordinated a trial to see whether  tranexamic acid could help women who experienced severe bleeding after giving birth. The work was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UK’s health department, the Wellcome Trust, Pfizer, and the LSHTM. 

For the study, researchers recruited more than 20,000 women in 21 countries over the course of six years. Half of the women were given tranexamic acid within three hours of giving birth, while the other half were given a placebo.

By the end, the researchers were able to show that the drug reduced the number of deaths due to bleeding by 31% compared to the placebo group. The results were published April 26 in The Lancet

“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,” Haleema Shakur, project director of the trial said in a news release.

“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.”

Learn more about Okamoto’s work developing the drug:

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