Cheap drug could save lives in poor nations-report

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LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) A cheap drug that prevents a deadly complication in pregnancy could save the lives of tens of thousands of women in poor countries each year, a health group said in a report today.

Eclampsia , which pushes blood pressure to fatal levels, kills 63,000 women a year, the international non-profit EngenderHealth said. But many health workers in the developing world are unfamiliar with how to treat the condition.

''Mothers continue to die from the lack of magnesium sulphate -- a safe, effective and inexpensive drug,'' the group said.

''Today, magnesium sulphate is still not available in the hospitals of many countries, nor is it on the countries'essential drug lists.'' The group urged political leaders, international agencies and national health systems to do more to combat the condition, which is 14 times more likely to kill women in poor nations than in the developed world.

Magnesium sulphate treatment has all but eliminated the dangers of eclampsia and its precursor, pre-eclampsia, in places like the United States.

The condition, which is also associated with a higher risk of newborn death, can cause seizures and kidney and liver damage and can be fatal if left untreated.

A big problem is health workers in the developing world use less effective drugs such as diazepam, a tranquilizer best known under the brand name Valium, to treat eclampsia and pre-eclampsia, EngenderHealth said.

It released the report at a conference in London focussing on the health of women, mothers and babies around the world.

The group also urged big international health and aid organisations to push to make magnesium sulphate more available and affordable, in part through education and training.

Political leaders should push to add magnesium sulphate to essential drug lists, a step toward making sure the treatment is universally available.

''Magnesium sulphate is a solution with proven effectiveness and safety, and yet it still eludes thousands of women who die needlessly each year,'' the report said.

REUTERS AE AS0915

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