In order to bring attention to the life-threatening pregnancy condition Pre-eclampsia, many health organizations observed World Pre-eclampsia Day on May 22, which allowed PATH the perfect opportunity to share its progress with an innovation that uses Epsom salt to save lives.
The nonprofit global health organization’s new innovation aims to make preventive solutions for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia more accessible in lower-income countries.
Every day about 800 women dies from preventable pregnancy-related causes, like pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO also reported that 99 percent of these maternal deaths take place in low-income countries.
How Is Epsom Salt Used to Save Lives?
Beginning in the 20th century, doctors discovered that Epsom salt worked as a method of treating pre-eclampsia, a condition that results in high-blood pressure and damage to the liver and kidneys, among other symptoms.
Despite its name, Epsom salt is not a salt at all, but rather it is magnesium sulfate and is known to prevent and deter convulsions that are common with pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, according to a historical report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).
For women in countries with more resources, magnesium sulfate is administered to them through an intravenous (IV) infusion before, during and after childbirth. Women in countries without access to reliable electricity cannot use IVs and must obtain the magnesium sulfate treatment via intramuscular injections which can be more painful, according to PATH.
While nearly 90 percent of the world’s population has access to electricity, stated by the World Bank data, 59 percent of healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries lack access to reliable electricity, according to a report published on Science Direct.
What Is PATH Doing About It?
Besides access to electricity, IV infusions can be difficult for low-income countries to access, taking into account the cost of purchasing, training and replacing parts. Knowing this, PATH began to develop a technology that would allow for a more reliable method of injecting medicine without the need for extensive training or electricity.
It took PATH innovators a few years to find the perfect technology that was simultaneously affordable, easy to use and did not need batteries or electricity. Ultimately, the group decided on using a bicycle pump, according to an article written by one of the developers, resulting in RELI Delivery System, or reusable, electricity-free, low-cost infusion delivery system.
The bicycle pump was able to have consistent delivery rates into the patient with just a few manual hand pumps. In 2016, PATH was able to produce a prototype and received two awards: the Saving Lives at Birth seed award and an honorary Peer Choice award.
The next step for the RELI Delivery System is to use the money from the awards and donations to PATH and follow the system in Rwanda and Uganda to see it work in action and gain feedback.
How Effective Is This Treatment?
A 2002 study conducted by The Magpie Trial Collaboration Group found that the use of magnesium sulfate halves the risk of eclampsia in pregnant women with pre-eclampsia. The same results were supported by a 2010 study conducted by several groups including the Centre for Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Leeds and Bradford Institute for Health Research.
In 2011, WHO recognized magnesium sulfate as a priority medicine for mothers for major causes of reproductive and sexual health mortality and morbidity.
Although the use of magnesium sulfate can ultimately save women’s lives, there are some side effects that come along with the treatment, including skin flushing (more common with intramuscular injections), nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, confusion, muscle weakness and abscesses.
While something as simple as Epsom salt being used to save lives is innovative in itself, developers, like those at PATH, are continuously working to ensure that everyone has equal access to these health benefits.
– Makenna Hall