Healthy living * First aid

Professor turns to the internet to save lives

Professor turns to the internet to save lives Cartoon character promotes cheap drug which is 'barely used'

A UK professor is counting on the power of the internet to promote a blood-clotting drug which he says could save up to 140,000 lives a year worldwide.

Professor Ian Roberts enlisted the help of his nephew, animation student Hywel Roberts, to come up with car crash victim Tran-man. A 40-second clip of Tran-man is being launched on YouTube and its Chinese equivalent, Tudou - to a potential audience of many millions.

The clip shows Tran-man with a hole in his side bleeding to death but is saved when given the blood-clotting drug tranexamic acid.

The voice-over has been translated into Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and English.

Professor Roberts says that while the cheap, generic drug is available widely, doctors and hospitals around the world are not aware of its power - meaning thousands of road accident and trauma victims are unnecessarily bleeding to death.

"If all hospitals in the world gave trauma patients this drug, 140,000 lives a year can be saved," Professor Roberts, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said.

He added: "We published two papers in The Lancet medical journal last year but we realised that not enough doctors in Brazil, China and Russia have read about it. It's not being used widely in hospitals and even in Britain only a small fraction of the patients who could benefit were actually treated."

He said because tranexamic acid is a cheap generic drug, many manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies were not prepared to market it. "The drug companies, who can spend millions on marketing, could see the health gains but not the profit margins of a generic, off-patent drug," he said.

"It was clear that if doctors were going to hear about tranexamic acid it was down to us to tell them."

The cartoon clip will link viewers to the findings of the Crash-2 tranexamic acid clinical trial.

The trial was coordinated by Professor Roberts and involved more than 20,000 adult patients in 274 hospitals across 40 countries.

When given within eight hours of injury, tranexamic acid significantly reduced the risk of death by about a tenth and death due to bleeding by about a sixth, without adverse side-effects.

The drug is given as a simple injection, and costs about £3.00.

An editorial in The Lancet in support of the professor's campaign said: "Despite these compelling findings, an audit of UK hospitals in 2011 showed that, of 412 trauma patients who were ill enough to need a blood transfusion and therefore be eligible for tranexamic acid treatment, only 12 (3%) received it. The implementation rate in low-income and middle-income countries could well be lower still.

"If branded pens and sticky notes can boost prescription of blockbuster drugs (and we know that they can), there is every hope that a much greater reward can be reaped by patients whose doctors view this animation."

Watch the video on YouTube: Tran man

This article was published on Fri 18 November 2011

Image © LSHTM

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