Inspired by NASA research on inflated anti-gravity suit or G-suit, “miracle suits” are helping new mothers survive blood loss after birth in developing countries.
California-based Zoex Corporation was the first company to develop commercially available pressure garment suitable for treating shock and blood loss in new mothers.
Since the pressure does not need to be as strong as in military and aviation cases, the company scrapped the old-style G-suits for a non-pneumatic version using simple elastic compression.
From left: Astronaut Joe Acaba, Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin are wearing G-suits to prevent blood from pooling in the lower body.
In a recent study by NASA Ames Research Centre and other researchers, the garments saved 13 out of 14 patients in Pakistan who were in shock from extreme blood loss.
In another study in Egypt and Nigeria, the garment reduced both blood loss and mortality from postpartum hemorrhage by 50 per cent.
“In the field of maternal health, we generally don’t see that kind of a reduction, and even more so when it’s the result of a single, simple intervention,” said Suellen Miller, founder of the Safe Motherhood Programme which aims to reduce pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths and illnesses across the globe.
By 2012, the World Health Organisation and the International Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians both decided to officially recommend the device to treat postpartum hemorrhage.
Since then, 20 countries have purchased a lower-cost version of the pressure garment called “LifeWrap”, produced by a manufacturer founded by Safe Motherhood and the nonprofit PATH.
“We’ve determined that these suits can be used at least 70 times,” Ms Miller said. “So we’re looking at a life-saving device that costs less than a dollar per use.”
LifeWrap is applied to a woman suffering from postpartum hemorrhage.
More recently, Ms Miller and her colleagues conducted training for Doctors Without Borders and the Canadian Red Cross so they could use the garment in Ebola-stricken countries in Africa.
“LifeWraps” have also been provided for ambulances in East Timor and are being used increasingly throughout rural Tanzania.
Ms Miller thanks the US space agency for the critical role it played in getting the technology to this point.
“We’re taking this suit to the village, we’re taking it to the hut, we’re taking it to the poorest, most vulnerable, voiceless, powerless people grounded into the Earth, and making a difference for them,” she said in a NASA statement.
Ms Miller also reported that some of the doctors and midwives she has met have voiced their own thanks for the garment, which has taken many names over the years: they like to call it the “miracle suit”.
Every year, at least 70,000 women die from obstetric hemorrhage – mostly in the world’s least developed countries.