Antishock garment.

This antishock garment applies pressure to a woman’s lower body to help control postpartum bleeding. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Postpartum hemorrhage kills more new mothers than any other cause, but antishock garments can save lives

It is the most common cause of death among new mothers: excessive bleeding after childbirth, or postpartum hemorrhage, accounts for about a quarter of all maternal deaths. The vast majority of the women who die from postpartum hemorrhage live in developing countries, where health care facilities and staff often are not equipped to handle obstetric emergencies.

If not treated immediately, postpartum hemorrhage can cause irreparable damage to a woman’s vital organs. If the bleeding continues, a woman can go into shock and die.

A garment for lifesaving support

While postpartum hemorrhage is a killer, it is also one of the few obstetric complications with proven interventions.

PATH’s experience has taught us that simple is often better. A new technology does not have to be complicated and expensive to saves lives. The nonpneumatic antishock garment is a perfect example of this.

PATH collaborated with the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Safe Motherhood Program, Pathfinder International, and Blue Fuzion Group on the nonpneumatic antishock garment, a groundbreaking innovation that evolved from a technology originally developed by NASA for use on the space station.

An antishock garment can keep a mother alive until she is treated for postpartum hemmorhage.

The lightweight, neoprene device resembles the bottom half of a wetsuit—its five segments are wrapped around a mother’s legs, pelvis, and abdomen, then tightened with Velcro straps. The garment, called “nonpneumatic” because it does not use air, applies pressure to the lower part of the body, forcing blood to key organs including the heart, lungs, and brain.

Keeping death at bay

PATH and our partners collaborated to demonstrate the antishock garment’s effectiveness, establish high quality standards, and improve affordability while making it more accessible for low-resource areas.

Clinical trials by UCSF found a 50 percent decrease in deaths from severe obstetric hemorrhage when the antishock garment was used at primary care facilities. When fastened correctly, it can keep a mother alive until she can be transported to a facility with a higher level of care. Over the course of six years, the garment was successfully used on nearly 1,400 women in India and Nigeria by health providers trained by Pathfinder International.

Affordable, available, and accessible

While the World Health Organization recommended that the garment be used to address postpartum hemorrhage until appropriate care is available, it was too expensive and hard to procure for the countries that needed it most—and so PATH stepped in.

To increase the garment’s availability, PATH focused on reducing the costs of production, from raw materials through manufacturing, transport, and delivery. We also evaluated regulatory factors that might speed up or slow down widespread use. This included developing an efficient and cost-effective shipping plan to get the garment from manufacturers to health clinics.

We developed quality standards for the garment, and then our business and technical experts contacted 63 companies to find the most qualified manufacturer. After rigorous review and testing, we established commercial partnerships in India and China.

Our research into lowering the cost of the garment and our success in establishing local manufacturing resulted in a four time reduction in price, while maintaining the highest quality standards. The version produced in China, by Blue Fuzion Group, has received CE marking, a form of regulatory approval that certifies a product has met European Union consumer safety, health, or environmental requirements.

Collaborating for success

The nonpneumatic antishock garment has the potential to save lives where distance to a health facility is the difference between life and death—if it is affordable, available, and accessible and if health workers receive training in its use. This type of innovation—and the unique collaboration that made it possible—is key to creating access to lifesaving solutions for women around the world.