Tuesday, May 4, 2010

LifeWrap: A Gift For Mothers

Photo courtesy: Care2

Reprinted from Care2.

Consider this: over half a million women die each and every year from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Over forty percent of these deaths are the result of obstetric hemorrhage – in fact, a new mother can bleed to death in as little as two hours if she doesn’t get help. It may come as no surprise that the majority of these deaths occur in the developing world, so common, in fact, that a woman dies every four minutes from obstetric hemorrhage.

Here’s what may be surprising: most of these deaths are preventable. The real problem is that so many women in the developing world deliver their babies at home or at primary health centers with no real emergency medical facilities. If a mother starts to hemorrhage she may be days, or even crucial hours, away from a real hospital. And by then it’s simply too late.

Dr. Suellen Miller, Director of the Safe Motherhood Program at the Bixby Centre for Global Reproductive Health out of the University of California, San Francisco, has dedicated her career to combating maternal mortality. Right now, she is focusing on the LifeWrap.

The LifeWrap, which resembles a segmented wetsuit, has its roots in an inflatable pressure suit developed by a doctor, George Crile, in the 1900’s to maintain blood pressure during surgery. Today, it’s on the cutting edge of saving mothers' lives.

“It works by providing compression on the lower body, and that compression on the lower body of a woman who’s hemorrhaging will reverse the shock that she’s in so we make sure that blood is now going to her brain, and her heart, and her lungs,” Dr Miller explains.

“It’s not treating the cause of the bleeding. And it’s not replacing the blood. She still needs those really major efforts which can only be done at most sites at a very large hospital we call a comprehensive emergency obstetric care facility.” In short, the LifeWrap buys time so that a woman can get to a hospital and get treated.

“It’s really an ideal device for low resource settings. It doesn’t require a lot of training. It empowers people both at the community level and at the lowest level of the healthcare system to be really able to do something,” Dr. Miller says. “It’s so, so simple, and so intuitive. People see it and they understand that it works.” It’s also reusable, Dr. Miller estimates by at least fifty times. “It’s bleached and washed and then put back to use again.”

Watch this remarkable video narrated by Dr. Miller that shows how a LifeWrap saved one woman’s life.

Dr. Miller and her team have used the LifeWrap in Egypt, Nigeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and India to date. She’s working right now on getting World Health Organization approval so that the LifeWrap can be used by U.N. agencies and be donated to governments – and applied on a large scale.

“We’ve used the LifeWrap on over three thousand women. And the women who have used the LifeWrap have had decreased bleeding and vastly improved survival rates over women with the same conditions who haven’t had it. We’ve saved 50% of women who would have otherwise died,” Dr. Miller claims. “This is my work. It’s just amazing to be able to save these many women and just make a big difference.” That’s some Mother’s Day gift.

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