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DEVELOPMENT REPORT – July 22, 2002: Maternal Deaths Study - 2002-07-19

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English Development Report.

Each year, more than five-hundred-thousand women in developing countries die while giving birth to babies. One of the causes for many of these deaths is a condition called pre-eclampsia. Up to eight percent of all pregnant women around the world develop this condition. Signs of pre-eclampsia include high blood pressure and protein in the fluid waste from a woman’s body.

If the condition is not identified and treated, pre-eclampsia can quickly progress to a severe condition called eclampsia. This condition can result in death for the mother if it is not treated. Researchers estimate fifty-thousand women in mostly poor countries die of eclampsia each year.

Scientists say that a simple drug called magnesium sulphate can treat pre-eclampsia. Researchers recently studied the effects of the drug on more than ten-thousand pregnant women living in thirty-three countries. All the women were being treated in hospitals for pre-eclampsia. The researchers gave half the women injections of magnesium sulphate. The other women were given an injection of an inactive substance, known as a placebo.

Scientists found that magnesium sulphate stopped the progression to eclampsia in fifty-eight percent of the women. They say the drug also probably reduced the risk of death among the women who received it. A researcher at the Institute for Health at Oxford University in Britain organized the study. The results were published last month in The Lancet.

Scientists do not know what causes pre-eclampsia. However, doctors say women with high blood pressure or those pregnant for the first time are most at risk. Women who are very young or very old at the time they become pregnant are also more at risk.

Women in the United States with pre-eclampsia have been treated with magnesium sulphate for many years. The drug does not cost much money. However, women with the condition must receive the drug by injection while in a hospital. The drug does not work if it is swallowed.

Researchers hope the World Health Organization will press drug companies to produce more magnesium sulphate. Then there would be enough of the drug for the countries that need it. Experts say this would save the lives of thousands of women every year.

This VOA Special English Development Report was written by Jill Moss. This is Bill White.