A third of new mothers who suffer from deadly haemorrhage could be saved by a simple, low-cost treatment, a UK-led international study has found.
Severe bleeding accounts for around one in five of the approximately 300,000 maternal deaths that occur around the world each year.
Now a global trial conducted by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found many new mothers could be saved if they are treated with tranexamic acid.
The drug, which has no negative side-effects, had previously been shown to improve survival rates in trauma patients.
Invented in the 1960s, the treatment never made it to a major trial due to a lack of interest among obstetricians, according to the researchers.
Their study involving thousands of women, published in The Lancet, found maternal mortality was reduced by 19 per cent with the use of tranexamic acid.
Researchers found the figure rose to 31 per cent if the drug was administered within three hours of birth.
"We now have important evidence that the early use of tranexamic acid can save women's lives and ensure more children grow up with a mother," said trial director Haleema Shakur, associate professor of clinical trials at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"It's safe, affordable and easy to administer, and we hope that doctors will use it as early as possible following the onset of severe bleeding after childbirth."
More than 20,000 mothers over the age of 16 participated in the trial, which took place in 21 locations, including countries with some of the highest rates of maternal mortality.
Some 98 per cent of maternal deaths occur in around 75 low and middle-income countries, where hysterectomy is often performed to treat mothers suffering from haemorrhage.
The WHO recommends that TXA be given if other efforts to control bleeding fail, but this study suggests that the timeline for the drug be accelerated, especially in developing countries, so that doctors give it as soon as the bleeding begins.
The drug was invented Shosuke and Utako Okamoto, a Japanese husband and wife research team.
Ian Roberts, professor of clinical trials at school, who co-led the study, said: "The researchers who invented tranexamic acid more than 50 years ago hoped it would reduce deaths from post-partum haemorrhage, but they couldn't persuade obstetricians at the time to conduct a trial.
"Now we finally have these results that we hope can help save women's lives around the world."