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 each year, according to the first study of its use in postpartum haemorrhage.

PUNJAB, PAKISTAN/ IBIDAN, NIGERIA (REUTERS) Delivering a baby carries big risks.

For new mothers around the world, the biggest cause of death is postpartum haemorrhage, a form of severe bleeding that can kill if it isn't treated in time.

"The baby came out, my wife started bleeding, she started bleeding and the bleeding could not stop. So we tried to take her to a hospital where they could really help us, but I think we did not get there in time," said Anopueme Chukwuemeka, husband of a woman who died as a result of postpartum haemorrhage. 

Now researchers say a cheap and widely available drug could help reduce deaths from PPH by around one third.

Tranexamic acid, or TXA, works by stopping blood clots from breaking down and reduces the need for urgent surgery to control bleeding, according to the study.

Good news for patients in lower income countries like Nigeria, where many struggle to access maternity care.

"Some are social factors like delays or not having enough funds, some are because we don't have all the right equipment in the hospitals and we don't always have all the right skills, and you have to pay for things," said Dr Nike Bello, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.

The randomised study of 20,000 new mothers showed that of the women given TXA within three hours, 89 died from bleeding.

That compares to 127 deaths of women given normal standard care plus a placebo.

And no side effects from the drug were found for either mothers or babies.

"It is very important for Nigeria and indeed for the entire world because we do know that postpartum haemorrhage accounts for 25 per cent or even more in some parts of the world in terms of maternal mortality," said Dr Bukola Fawole, national coordinator of the trials for women in Nigeria.

More than 100,000 women die from PPH around the world each year, mostly in poorer countries like Nigeria and Pakistan.

Researchers hope the clot-stabilising drug has the potential to dramatically reduce that number.