How A Condom And A Catheter Are Saving Mothers From Bleeding To Death During Delivery

An innovation that costs less than $5, and requires items that could be found in any drug store, could save thousands of mothers’ lives.

Across the world, about 130,000 mothers die every year due to postpartum hemorrhage, a condition in which a woman experiences excessive bleeding following the birth of a baby. While developed countries with advanced health systems have the resources available to save these women, many low-income countries don’t -- which is why they’re looking toward a simple device that requires a condom and a catheter. 

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital developed a low-cost alternative to the uterine balloon tamponade, a device that’s used worldwide when women experience PPH, that’s just as effective as its pricier counterpart.

After a condom is tied to a Foley catheter, it’s inflated with clean water through a syringe and one-way valve. The process has been shown to stop the bleeding, according to an MGH press release. 

This device costs just a few dollars, while the single-use medical balloons manufactured in the U.S. can run more than $400.

In 2012, MGH partnered with the Ministry of Health, PATH, UNICEF and a number of other groups to introduce the device to health clinics in Kenya.

Over the course of 11 months, the group dispensed 26 balloons to women who were either unconscious or in an altered mental states due to severe PPH. In every case, the bleeding was controlled and none of the women died or became disabled.

The following year, MGH was awarded a $2 million USAID grant to deploy the uterine balloon to 300 facilities in Kenya and 50 facilities in Sierra Leone over the next four years.

The device is expected to be able to save 169,000 women over the next 15 years, according NPR’s Goats and Soda. 

“Here you are losing a mother and there’s nothing else you can do,” Dr. Nuru Abbas, a medical officer at Garissa General Hospital in Kenya, said in a video interview. “We did UBT, it was like [a] miracle, it was magic. Suddenly the bleeding stopped, the mother’s condition improved … all the mothers we used UBT on, it was a success story.”