The United States has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, with about 700 women dying each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications, according to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The childbirth mortality rate is three times higher for black women compared to white women.
And worldwide, approximately 70,000 women die each year due to post-partum hemorrhage, according to the World Health Organization.
But this week, the WHO announced a possible new solution that could save tens of thousands of lives each year.
WHO researchers teamed up with Merck for Mothers for a massive global trial of 30,000 women in 10 countries to test the effectiveness of a heat-stable version of a molecule similar to oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a drug often given to women to help the uterus tighten and prevent women from losing too much blood.
While the uterus can sometimes control the bleeding on its own, in about 1 in 6 women in the U.S., it can’t contract quickly enough to stop the bleeding, NPR reported.
Additionally, oxytocin degrades when stored at temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and it isn’t widely accessible around the world.
But this new heat-stable version of the molecule developed by chemists at Ferring Pharmaceuticals can retain its potency for three years even after temperatures climb to 86 degrees Fahrenheit — and it’s as effective for six months at a temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the trial, half of the 30,000 women (from Argentina, Egypt, India, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda or the United Kingdom) received a shot of oxytocin right after giving birth vaginally and the other half received a shot of the heat-stable oxytocin-like molecule carbetocin.
Researchers found that both groups had similar blood loss with about 14.5 percent in each group losing a half liter of blood after childbirth. There was no statistically significant difference between the groups for women who lost more than a liter of blood.
“This is a truly encouraging new development that can revolutionize our ability to keep mothers and babies alive,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release Wednesday.
The new drug, if approved, is especially “good news for the million of women who give birth in parts of the world without access to reliable refrigeration,” WHO researcher Metin Gülmezoglu added.
The new research was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.