Saving the mothers

Ahmed Shatil Alam writes about a Bangladeshi doctor whose invention is now saving millions of mothers

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When all their efforts had gone in vain during the delivery of a female patient in 2000, all the doctors from Dhaka Medical College and Hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynaecology department were frustrated. They dreaded not being able to save the patient. As she bled during delivery, the young woman was about to die and the doctors almost decided to cut off her uterus as a last-ditch effort to save her.

The news of this fortunately reached a senior doctor of the department, named Sayeba Akhter who was also a professor of the department and very renowned to the patients for her expertise on Gynaecology. She asked the doctors at the operation theatre to not cut off her uterus as she planned to apply an innovative technique.

Recalling the day, she says, ‘the first step to stop bleeding is to apply pressure on the uterus. But it’s impossible to apply pressure during bleeding…I had a different plan.’ The veteran doctor planned to stop the bleeding by inserting a condom attached with a catheter and filled with water inside the uterus. ‘As we applied this method, it put pressure on the inner side of the uterus and stopped the bleeding in 10 minutes…and the woman survived,’ she says.

The idea came to her mind after seeing children in the village playing with balloons, specifically condoms. It is undesirable but true that in rural Bangladesh, children from poor families often buy low-end condoms and play with them as these are not so expensive. In DMCH, the Gynaecology department surgeons use a kind of specialised balloon named ‘Rusch balloon’, worth around USD 300 or around Taka 25,000 to stop such bleeding. The hospital got the balloon through a foreign delegate’s team during a conference. But unfortunately since the balloon was lost, the doctors used to cut off the uterus of the patients’ just to save them.

Globally, at least 13 lakh mothers die every year during delivery, while 26 lakh women lose their ability to give birth due to the bleeding during delivery. Most of the cases have occurred in the poor countries like Bangladesh.

While sharing these details with New Age Xtra, she says that DMCH had used the Rusch balloon multiple times although it was instructed to be used once. ‘It was expensive equipment therefore we had to use it over and over to save lives,’ she says.

Fortunately, soon after her innovative technique found success, they studied the technique for next two years and applied it on 23 persons. Interestingly all the cases were successful.

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As the technique was not expensive at all, costing only Taka 100, it has become a real hit and has become popular among the doctors at OT to save patients. Dr Sayeba’s method, which is already known as ‘Sayeba’s method of PPH control’ was published in the 2003 Medscape medical journal, as a research paper in the International Gyne and Obs journal, and as an article in the British Medical Journal Review. Since then it has been applied on patients in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Kenya, Latin America and other developing countries where many people cannot get proper treatment due to expenses.

The legendary Bangladeshi doctor, who is now serving people through her own institution in Dhaka, however, never wanted to be a doctor and was in love with mathematics. ‘I always wanted to be a teacher, precisely a math teacher…but my father who is one of my mentors pushed me to enroll at medical college,’ she says.

In fact, during her viva exam before entering Chittagong Medical College and Hospital around the 80s, she almost tried to skip the admission but could not succeed. But the doctor is also grateful to her mother and also her husband who is also a doctor as well. She fell in love with serving patients around her third year of MBBS course after witnessing the suffering of a middle-aged male patient affected with severe gangrene on his right leg.

‘ One day as my course requirement I was inspecting a ward where I found that male patient who was affected with gangrene and smelled very awful, for which nobody was even going near him to treat him…’ she recalls. She had treated the patient and had managed to cure him.

After finishing her MBBS, she later chose to take Gynaecology as her major for post-graduation. SGM Chowdhury, a veteran doctor of the country, inspired her to take it up. ‘He was my professional idol and inspired me a lot to take up Gynaecology as my zone to serve the patients.’ she says. ‘My father always told me that physicians get more chance to serve people than any others. By choosing Gynae, I am feeling it everyday as the women have lesser chance to receive proper treatment in countries like ours,’ she says.

End.