This new drug can reduce post-childbirth bleeding and save lives, says WHO

More than 70% of hemorrhagic deaths occur post-partum.

Excessive bleeding following childbirth is one of the major causes of death in several countries. Approximately 70,000 women die every year because of post-partum haemorrhage, which also increases the risk of babies dying within a month.

“Despite substantial reductions in maternal mortality, hemorrhage continues to be the largest direct cause of maternal death, accounting for 6,61,000 deaths worldwide between 2003 and 2009. More than 70% of hemorrhagic deaths occur post partum, and most are due to uterine atony, which results from poor contraction of the uterus after childbirth,” mentions the study.

Now, a clinical trial by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 10 countries (including India), shows that a novel formulation using the drug carbetocin could be an effective way to prevent excessive bleeding. It could potentially save thousands of women’s lives.

Currently, the WHO recommends oxytocin as the first-choice drug for preventing excessive bleeding after childbirth. Oxytocin, however, must be stored and transported at 2-8 degrees Celsius, which is hard to do in many countries, depriving many women of access to this lifesaving drug. If it gets exposed to heat, the drug becomes less effective.

 The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that heat-stable formulation of carbetocin can be as safe as oxytocin in preventing post-partum haemorrhage. This new formulation of carbetocin does not require refrigeration and retains its efficacy for at least 3 years, when stored at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and 75% relative humidity. “This is an encouraging new development that can revolutionise our ability to keep mothers and babies alive,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO.

For the trial, the team studied 30,000 women, who gave birth vaginally in 10 countries such as India, Argentina, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda and the UK. The study found that both drugs were equally effective at preventing excessive bleeding after birth, but oxytocin tends to degrade in higher temperatures, whereas heat-stable carbetocin shows no effect of high temperature. The next step will be a regulatory review and approval by countries.