On Monday, I was incredibly blessed to be able to witness the birth of my new baby sister. While labor and delivery is always a nerve-wracking experience, I was reassured knowing that my mother and sister were able to receive the best possible medical attention. Walking around the hospital in the “Mother and Baby” wing, my father joked that the hospital was one indoor pool away from being a holiday resort.

Although, when compared to other developed nations, the U.S. actually lags behind in maternal mortality rates, the lifetime risk of an American woman dying from pregnancy-related causes is about 1 in 4,800, as of 2005. In Niger that number is closer to 1 in 7. In fact, over 99% of all maternal deaths occur in the developing world, and 84% are in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia alone. Due to poor medical conditions, high fertility rates, teenage pregnancies, unmet need for contraception and several other factors, 1,440 women will die from pregnancy-related causes today.

Unfortunately, bringing the level of care that my mother received during her pregnancy, labor and deliver to all women would be unreasonably expensive and impossible considering the state of the healthcare system in many developing nations. Nevertheless, there is a cost-effective and simple solution available right now to help reduce the risk of maternal mortality and morbidity in regions where there is a lack of access to adequate medical services.

Misoprostol is a drug that can be administered orally and stimulates uterine contractions (although the drug’s labeled use is for the treatment of gastric ulcers). This mechanism can induce abortions in early stage pregnancies, induce labor in full-term pregnancies and reduce the risk of postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH), the leading cause of maternal death in Africa and Asia. Because this drug can be used for inducing abortions, many countries, including several in sub-Saharan Africa where the drug would be the first option to prevent PPH in a resource-limited setting, have not approved the sale or use of misoprostol. Fortunately, it seems that some countries are catching on and misoprostol has been recently approved in Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia for the prevention of postpartum hemorrhaging.

Research has shown that a single dose of misoprostol, costing only $1, at the time of delivery can half the risk of postpartum hemorrhaging, when compared to a placebo group. The low cost of misoprostol, combined with the easy administration of the drug, makes it an effective method to save the lives of women all over the world. One dollar is a very small price to pay to ensure the health of a new mother and her baby. Hopefully the medical necessity of using misoprostol will overcome the ideological challenges that the drug currently faces.

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