Bangladesh has made impressive efforts to reduce deaths among mothers, lowering the rate of maternal mortality by 40% in the first decade of this century (from 322 to 194 deaths per 100,000 live births). This has been achieved by encouraging women to deliver in hospitals and clinics, and by providing training to unqualified birth attendants. Now a new invention may help these informal midwives to save even more lives.
One of the main causes of maternal death is haemorrhaging, but it’s hard for birth attendants to distinguish between the blood from a healthy birth and a life-threatening loss. A recent article in the Economist highlights how a new birth mat could help with this problem by providing a warning about dangerous bleeding. Invented in Dhaka, the mat gives a clear indication of danger. Designed to absorb just over 400 millilitres of blood across its 50cm square diameter, if the cotton and tissue mat gets saturated, the birth attendant can see the mother is losing more blood than normal. This indicates that a drug such as misoprostol, which controls haemorrhaging, needs to be given. Distributed with 77,000 birth kits, early results indicate that lives have already been saved by the mat, with 37 fewer deaths among new mothers than expected.
In Africa and Asia, another technology is also reducing maternal deaths from haemorrhaging. Recently demonstrated at a health conference in Malaysia, the ‘lifewrap’ is a half-body suit which is strapped around a woman’s lower legs and abdomen to slow bleeding and prevent mothers suffering shock due to blood loss. According to an article in IRIN, the garment has been developed using neoprene (found in wet suits) and is based on a suit originally researched and developed by the US space industry. It works by placing pressure on the abdomen to decrease the radius of blood vessels and reduce overall bleeding.
Already trialled in India and in African countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe, use of the lifewrap, along with other interventions, has helped to decrease the number of maternal deaths by up to half over a period from 2004-2012. The use of the special suit is particularly vital in cases where it is not always possible to administer drugs like misoprostol in a timely manner. With frequent shortages of drugs in some developing countries and in remote areas, the lifewrap can be a life saver and help to ensure that babies get to keep their mothers.