A Simple Tool That is Saving Mothers From Dying in Childbirth


SEATTLE — Every year, hundreds of thousands of mothers die in childbirth, and much of the time, it is from a preventable or easily treatable issue. More than 30 percent of deaths from childbirth result from postpartum hemorrhaging, which is bleeding after giving birth. Postpartum hemorrhaging kills more than 130,000 women every year, and it disables another 2.6 million women after they give birth.

The Uterine Balloon Tamponade (UBT) has been saving mothers from dying in childbirth for years. These kits include a medical balloon to insert into the uterus to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. However, these medical balloons can be more than $400 apiece, making the UBT kits very expensive and impossible for many rural clinics in developing nations to afford. Instead of using these traditional UBT kits, doctors from the Massachusetts General Hospital and other organizations like PATH helped think of a much cheaper and still highly effective alternative.

This alternative is called an Every Second Matters UBT (ESM-UBT), and is a simple kit comprised of a condom, a catheter and a syringe. Instead of $400, these kits are only $5 apiece, making them much more affordable for many clinics in developing countries that already struggle with spending. The design is very simple. The catheter goes inside the condom and is tied in place, and then the condom is inserted into the uterus. The midwife can then use the syringe to fill the condom with water or saline through the catheter. As the balloon expands, it applies pressure to the walls of the uterus and begins to slow and stop the bleeding, preventing disability or death of the mother.

Many midwives have provided testimony about how the ESM-UBTs are saving mothers from dying in childbirth. Evelyne Mutio, a midwife in Western Kenya, praised the ESM-UBT as an easy and very effective solution that could save many lives. She said that “it is so easy to use. Anybody can use it.” This means that in an emergency situation, less trained individuals would still have a good chance of saving a mother’s life. Along with saving mothers’ lives, she appreciates that it doesn’t add more economic strain to the mothers and the community as a whole.

Another midwife, Anne Mulinge, told stories about some of the women that the ESM-UBTs had saved. She recalls that after one woman gave birth, “she started pouring blood like water. It was pouring non-stop,” so Mulinge used the ESM-UBT. Within five minutes of inserting the ESM-UBT, the flow of blood slowed, and the mother became stable. This woman likely would have died without the ESM-UBT.

The ESM-UBTs have a 98 percent survival rate when used properly, and it could help save more than 169,000 women in the next 15 years. While saving mothers from dying in childbirth, it also “reduces the economic and emotional suffering of families and the costs to governments.” ESM-UBTs are a simple and cost-effective solution, and they are already distributed┬áto around 150 clinics in Western Kenya alone.

To continue saving mothers from dying in childbirth, many organizations like PATH are increasing distribution and training midwives on how to use them. The more ESM-UBTs become prevalent in maternity centers, the fewer women will die in childbirth, and fewer newborn children will have to survive without their mothers.

Rachael Lind
Photo: Flickr


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