The World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved an anti-shock garment that decreases bleeding during child-birth and reverses shocks reducing chances of maternal deaths by 50 per cent.
Bleeding in women, technically known as Postpartum Haemorrhage (PPT), can be caused by labour complications, infections, and urinary bursts among others. A woman in such a situation is likely to die in less than two hours.
The Non-pneumatic Anti-Shock Garment (NASG) is among 13 essential commodities crucial in reducing maternal and new born deaths. It prevents any bleeding in the pelvic.
The NASG is the brainchild of collaboration between the University of California San Francisco Safe Motherhood Program, Pathfinder International and two firms, Blue Fuzion Group and Vissco. They adapted it from a space anti-bleeding garment originally created by US National Space Agency (NASA).
The NASG is a low technology compression device which, when placed around the lower body of a woman with obstetric haemorrhage, decreases bleeding, reverses shock to the brain and heart and buys the woman time until she can reach definitive care.
Dr Farouk Jega, a top Pathfinder official in Uganda, explained that when a woman is experiencing bleeding, much blood not only flows out but also downwards concentrating in the lower part of the body. This, he explained, reduces blood levels in the upper part of the body which has vital organs like the heart and the brain, leading to shocks.
According to Dr Jega, the garment is then wrapped tightly in the lower part from above the knee to the abdomen to reduce the blood flow towards the lower part of the body. That way, more blood is retained to sustain the heart and the brain, giving the woman the chance to reach a health unit where she can be helped.
Dr Suellen Miller of the University of California San Francisco Safe Motherhood Program, said the garment, which has been examined on 3,651 women, showed that it can reduce maternal deaths by 50 per cent.
She said the garment costs 70 dollars, equivalent to 180,000 Uganda shillings and can be re-used 40 times. After usage it is cleaned with detergents and dried in the sun, killing 99 per cent of germs.
Dr Miller said there is a need to empower front line workers who have no primary tools so they can save lives.
She said the garment is not a replacement for anti-bleeding drug misoprostol. At best, she said, the garment and misoprostol need to be used together, explaining that while the drug is effective in some women, it is not in others.
Dr Miller stressed that there is no competition between NASG and misoprostol.
Dr Miller said anybody can apply the garments on a woman like a maid, a teenager, a hospital cleaner, a hospital driver, taxi or bus driver. It takes just a minute to wrap it up.
The garment comes in two sizes – small and large. A woman can wear it for up to eight hours, yet without it a woman would most likely die in less than two hours.
But Dr Jega warned that while applying it is easy, removing it needs a qualified or skilled person in order to prevent situations where the garment may be removed prematurely hence reversing the flow of blood and affecting the brain and the heart.
He said there is a need to train frontline workers on how to use it and also create awareness, including among women, on the importance of delaying the removal of the garment even after reaching the hospital and feeling better.
Arnie Batson, the Chief Strategy Officer at Pathfinder International, said the challenge is to ensure that the garment is available in all parts of the world, especially in areas where women need them most.
She said every country should review its planning and training to include using the garments as part of their postpartum haemorrhage challenge.