It may take a village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes the whole world to save a mother. After years of research and development, one woman is leading the charge to distribute a life-saving ‘miracle suit’ to save new mothers who might otherwise bleed to death following childbirth. The suit is the result of considerable international cooperation, from its origins in NASA research to its backing by the World Health Organization and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Suellen Miller is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. She became motivated to solve a troubling problem in the world of postpartum care in 2002 after learning about the works of Dr. Paul Hensleigh, who was chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in California. Hensleigh was using a Non-Inflatable Anti-Shock Garment (NIASG) to stop postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), based on technology derived from the anti-gravity “G-suits” worn by NASA astronauts to prevent blood from pooling in the legs during extreme acceleration on spaceflights.
Miller founded the Safe Motherhood Program, whose goal is to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses associated with pregnancy and childbirth worldwide, and set about developing a simpler alternative to the NIASG suit. She calls her version a Non-Pneumatic Anti-Shock Garment (NASG) and began conducting clinical trials to prove its efficacy in combating PPH, which is responsible for killing some 70,000 new mothers each year around the world. Miller and her team, including Hensleigh, conducted comparative studies in Egypt and Nigeria in 2004, the results of which were published three years later. It wasn’t until late 2012 when the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians finally decided to back the device, after carefully considering the results of Miller’s clinical trials.
Since that time, Safe Motherhood has partnered with the nonprofit PATH to locate a manufacturer to produce a lower cost version of Miller’s NASG, which is called LifeWrap. Twenty countries have purchased the life-saving device, and Miller hopes the real world results will reflect the enormous benefits seen in the clinical trials. “If under clinical study conditions we can reduce [PPH fatalities] by 50%, then we have the potential to save 35,000 young, healthy, otherwise productive women every year,” Miller said.
Images via Safe Motherhood