Etiology and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage in low- and middle-income countries
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Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) is the leading direct cause of maternal mortality worldwide, with the majority of deaths taking place in the least developed countries of the world. Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have increased rates of PPH due to lack of access to healthcare, inadequate number of care providers and availability of interventions and resources needed. PPH has four main etiologies: uterine atony, trauma, retained placenta and coagulopathy. The most common and challenging to treat is uterine atony, where a lack of uterine contractility leads to massive hemorrhage postpartum. Specific risk factors have been identified that increase a woman’s risk of developing PPH. Risk factors of PPH can be categorized as biological, demographical and social risk factors. Many people in LMICs experience a lot of the social risk factors like lack of providers, skilled facilities and resources available to them in case of an obstetric emergency. Home births are also a common practice in many LMICs, placing a woman further from any resources she may have had access to if she was at a health facility. PPH can also occur in women without risk factors and requires that providers always be prepared to treat it. Interventions to treat PPH are well known and encompass both pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions that are usually tried in a least to most invasive order. The first line of intervention is often to administer a uterotonic drug, preferably oxytocin. This poses a challenge to LMICs because oxytocin requires a cold-chain storage, which many LMICs countries lack. Therefore, uterotonics and non-pharmacologic interventions have increasingly been used in these regions. The final and ultimate life saving measure to stop bleeding is a hysterectomy, which is often not available in these rural places where home births take place, and has led to higher mortality rates. Prevention measures of PPH include increasing antenatal care (ANC) use and practicing active management of the third stage of labor (AMTSL) with all pregnancies. Use of ANC and ultrasound technology can help identify the biological risk factors that make a woman more likely to experience PPH. Solutions to lowering the occurrence of PPH in LMICs involve increasing resources and access to healthcare. An important part to increasing access is increasing the number of skilled health facilities and health providers. Community health workers (CHW) and skilled birth attendants (SBA) are vital to increasing the amount and acceptability of care in these regions. These workers are trusted members of the community that can help educate and bring resources to women, as well as women to the resources. Solutions to stopping PPH need to consider the affordability, acceptability and accessibility in order to reach people in remote areas with limited resources. Both immediate short-term interventions and long-term, longitudinal healthcare reform are necessary to save mothers in LMICs.