Each year, more than 100,000 women around the world die from hemorrhaging after giving birth, mainly in underdeveloped nations. But the Guardian reports a cheap, safe drug that's been used for other conditions may be able to reduce that number, to the tune of 30,000 lives saved annually. A study in the Lancet followed 20,060 women in 21 countries who started to bleed after childbirth. At the hospital, women were given a placebo or tranexamic acid, an OTC drug used in industrialized countries as a skin lightener or to help with heavy periods; nearly one-third of those given the real deal survived. These results emerged only if the drug was administered within three hours after hemorrhaging began. Study lead author Haleema Shakur says of the women in that group who died, some took too long to get to the hospital after bleeding started, while others may have died from underlying sicknesses.
Study co-author Ian Robert notes tranexamic acid's original purpose when it was created 50 years ago—NPR gives credit to Utako Okamoto, a female doctor in Japan—was to stop bleeding after childbirth, but its inventors couldn't sway doctors to do trials. "Now we finally have these results," Roberts tells the Guardian. There are issues with how scalable the drug would be (most women take it via a tablet, which may take too long to be absorbed to be effective), but other alternatives are being examined, such as injection, a capsule under the tongue, and even a pre-birth tablet for high-risk cases. Plus, the side effects don't appear to be significant, and the low cost is a major draw: It's said to cost around $3 in the UK, and one-fourth that in Pakistan, per NPR. "If you can save a life for approximately $3, then I believe that's worth doing," Shakur says. (Sweden has a "giving birth in a car" class.)