It's estimated that more than 100,000 mothers in developing countries die every year from postpartum hemorrhages. Imagine if there was an easy, cheap solution that could save their lives. Turns out, there is such a solution: A drug that costs less than $1 per dose and does not require refrigeration has been found to help stop postpartum hemorrhaging and has the potential to save tens of thousands of mothers from death.
Tranexamic acid (TXA), a generic blood-clotting drug that has been used for years to save the lives of trauma patients and wounded soldiers, has now been proven effective in saving women suffering from childbirth-related blood loss.
“Tranexamic acid can save women’s lives and ensure more children grow up with a mother,” said Haleema Shakur, one of the lead authors, told The New York Times.
Childbirth can be brutal on the body, and hemorrhaging, which is defined as uncontrollable bleeding, is extremely common. In fact, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, blood loss of more than 500 mL occurs in up to 18 percent of births and is the leading cause of maternal mortality.
In the United States and other developed nations, the risk of death is very low because our hospitals have access to plenty of blood bank supply and the tools and resources to stop the bleeding. In poorer, more remote parts of the world where such items are not available, this inexpensive drug has the powerful potential to save mother’s lives and also help prevent emergency hysterectomies.
The study, known as the WOMAN (or World Maternal Antifibrinolytic) Trial, was published in The Lancet and accompanied by an informational video. Funded in large part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the study looked at 20,000 women in 193 hospitals, across 21 countries. It was randomized and double-blind, meaning that some women were given TXA while others were given a placebo and neither the doctors nor the patients knew which one they were given.
This study was a huge undertaking, requiring the cooperation of so many doctors and mothers across the world. It was also a huge success. TXA lowered the risk of death by 20 percent, and if administered within the first three hours, it reduced maternal mortality by 30 percent. Better still, they found no adverse side effects from the injectable drug that helps the body clot blood more effectively.
TXA was developed in the 1950s by Shosuke and Utako Okamoto, a husband and wife research team from Kobe, Japan. A working mom, Utako Okamoto brought her baby daughter on her back to the laboratory while working on her life-saving discovery. She had hoped that their drug would be used to prevent postpartum hemorrhages, but they where unable to persuade local obstetricians to conduct a trial.
Sadly, Utako died before learning the results of this new study, but in an interview before her death in 2016, she was confident it would be proven successful one day. Her contribution to mothers the world over is a beautiful and profound legacy.