Pregnancy

Cheap blood drug could prevent thousands of maternal deaths in developing world

A cheap and widely available drug could save the lives of one in three of the 100,000 new mothers who bleed to death after childbirth every year, mostly in poorer countries, according to the first study of its use in postpartum haemorrhage.

In a trial of 20,000 women, researchers found that the drug, called tranexamic acid or TXA, cut the number of deaths due to post-partum bleeding by 31 percent if given within three hours. The treatment costs about $2.50 in most countries, they said.

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As TXA works by stopping blood clots from breaking down, the researchers also found that it reduced the need for urgent surgery to control bleeding by more than a third.

"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," said Haleema Shakur, an associate professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) who co-led the trial.

The study involved mothers from 193 hospitals in 21 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia but also in Britain and elsewhere, who suffered postpartum haemorrhage (PPH), the leading cause of maternal death worldwide.

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PPH is defined as a blood loss of more than 500 milliliters within 24 hours of giving birth.

The results showed that of the women given tranexamic acid within three hours, 89 died from bleeding compared with 127 given the normal standard care plus a placebo. No side effects from the drug were found for either mothers or babies.

TXA, which is now an off-patent generic medicine, was originally invented in the 1960s by a Japanese husband and wife research team, Shosuke and Utako Okamoto. The drug is widely used to treat excessive blood loss from major trauma injuries.

They had hoped it would be used to reduce deaths from PPH, but according to the LSHTM experts who ran this study, they were unable to persuade obstetricians at the time to conduct a trial.