A new drug currently used to stop bleeding in combat and car crashes is being explored as a solution to save mothers’ lives during childbirth. Each year, uncontrollable bleeding after childbirth — known as postpartum hemorrhage — takes the live of more than 100,000 women in poor and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organization. It is the leading cause of maternal death today.
Tranexamic acid, a long-overlooked drug created in the 1950s, could finally be the answer to saving mothers’ lives. The drug has saved thousands of wounded soldiers and car crash victims, quickly stopping bleeding by keeping naturally formed blood clots intact. The medicine is inexpensive to make and has been reportedly safe to use.
Its inventor, Japanese medical doctor and scientist Utako Okamoto, originally hoped it would be used to prevent childbirth hemorrhages but local obstetricians declined to arrange a clinical trial. “It was Okamoto’s dream to save women,” said Haleema Shakur, the principal investigator of the clinical trials that concluded the drug was an effective treatment for postpartum hemorrhage. “But she couldn’t convince doctors to test the drugs on postpartum hemorrhaging.” She would not live to see the completion of the study.
The massive international trial known as Woman (World Maternal Antifibrinolytic) was led by Shakur and other doctors at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The study involved over 20,000 women from 21 different countries and found that the likelihood of death dropped by 31% if a mother was treated within three hours after postpartum bleeding began.