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Megan Carlson/ MEDILL    

Drug to prevent postpartum hemorrhaging can save thousands of lives in developing countries

by Megan Carlson
Jun 12, 2013


Megan Carlson/MEDILL

More than 65 healthcare providers gathered to learn how misoprostol could be used to prevent maternal deaths from postpartem hemorrhaging around the globe

Doctors are working to deliver misoprostol - which can be used for abortions - to women in developing countries. But the mission for the drug is to prevent thousands of deaths due to postpartum hemorrhaging.

“What we had done was raise awareness about safe motherhood,” said Stacie Geller, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She shared her experiences delivering misoprostal to women in India and Ghana Tuesday at a forum at Prentice Women's Health. 

Postpartum hemorrhage-- or excessive post-birth bleeding--  is one of the leading causes of death for women across the world.  Ninety-nine percent of those deaths occur in developing countries, according to Geller.

It can be prevented by taking oxytocin, but the hormone is expensive, requires refrigeration (which is not available in places with limited electricity) and can be difficult to administer. Misoprostol is an alternative that many doctors prefer in low-resource settings due to its affordability, long shelf life and ease of delivery, but use of the drug has been fought by government officials who contend women will misuse the drug for abortions.

Geller proved that women in Ghana did not misuse misoprostol, convincing the government to distribute the drug to women on a limited basis. 

She urged healthcare providers Tuesday to similarly translate their research into real outcomes for women around the world.

“We have the answers. This is not a complex question. We know how to get women, in most cases, to have a healthy delivery,” she said. “We need governments and we need governments engaged in spending money to do this.”