History of pharmaceutical research will forever be saddled with the weight of the Thalidomide disaster that occurred in the 1960s. The disaster resulted from the use of Thalidomide, a mild sleep inducing pill which was supposed to be safe for pregnant women. Thalidomide was developed by the West German Pharmaceutical Company, Chemie Grünenthal and was licensed in 1956. The drug was approved in many countries but was not approved in the United States of America. According to research, an Australian obstetrician Dr. William McBride, discovered that the drug also alleviated morning sickness. This discovery made him recommend this off label use of Thalidomide to his pregnant patients, setting a worldwide trend. After some time, he associated women who took Thalidomide to manage symptoms of morning sickness to the reason why thousands of babies were bornwith malformed limbs. The drug was then banned by many countries. Literature has it that, the tragedy of Thalidomide led to changes that strengthened both the regulatory and scientific environment for medication product development.
The use of medicine before, during and after pregnancy is one of the most crucial decision that needs to be evaluated. To start with, pregnancy comes with its associated problems hence the need to eliminate any factor that could put both mother and baby at risk. The first three months of pregnancy is critical because of the development of vital organs of the fetus. Taking drugs around that stage could increase the chance of birth defects. Pregnant women have been advised during ante-natal meetings to seek for expert advice before taking any medicine. This is not always the case, studies have shown that pregnant women may not always report their use of alcohol/or other drugs. In addition, it has been found that illicit drugs have been associated with preterm delivery, low birth weight infants, placental abruption, and neonatal intensive care admissions.The Thalidomide disaster that took place many years ago, created an awareness of the harmful effect of some drugs to developing fetus.
Over the counter medications such as Ibuprofen, Aspirin, herbal medicines and other beverages such as coffee and tea can damage fetus.
Coffee, according to research contains caffeine a drug derivative from a chemical family called Xanthines. Two related chemicals, Theophylline and Theobroma are found in tea and chocolate respectively. Xanthines are wild central nervous system stimulant that increases mental alertness and reduces fatigue. In addition, it increases heart muscle contraction, oxygen consumption and produces side effects like wakefulness, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, indigestion and sometimes delirium. The Xanthine can cause serious damage like heart problems not just to pregnant women but their fetus as well. Recreational drugs like marijuana, heroin and cocaine when taken by pregnant women would cause withdrawal symptoms in fetus.
Furthermore, the use of herbal medicines amongst our local people is a major concern to healthcare practitioners in the country. The issue is not whether the medicine is effective or not but whether it would not have any adverse effect on both mother and fetus. Most people are of the view that herbal medicines do not have side effects and have continually abused herbal medicine, this practice can be found even amongst pregnant women. There has not been much research supporting herbal medicines as compared to orthodox medicines hence the tendency to cause a similar scare like that caused by the Thalidomide disaster in the 1960s.
Most pregnant women in rural areas in Ghana use herbal medicine through some unconventional mode of preparation, hence the need for healthcare givers to be aware of this practice and make efforts in obtaining information about herbal use during ante-natal care.
Next time any pregnant woman decides to take medicine or care givers give out any medicine to pregnant women, always remember the implications of taking a monster that can either swallow up a limb, nose, eye or cause a defect of the heart of the fetus involved. Be wise, your baby is important not just to you but Ghana as a whole.
Adusi-Poku, Y., Vanotoo, L., Detoh, E.K., Oduro, J., Nsiah, R.B. & Natogmah, A.Z. (2015). Type of Herbal Medicines Utilized by Pregnant Women Attending Ante- Natal Clinic in Offinso North District: Are Orthodox Prescribers Aware? Ghana Medical Journal. Vol. 49(4). Pg. 228-232
Johnson, K., Gerada, C., & Greenough, A. (2003). Substance Misuse During Pregnancy. The British Journal Of Psychiatry. Vol. 183. Pp 187-189.
Kim, J. H. & Scialli, A.R. (2011). Thalidomide: The Tragedy of Birth Defects and Effective Treatment of Disease. Toxicological Sciences. Vol. 122(1) pg. 1-6
Williams, P.P., Jordaan, E., Mattews, C., Lombard, C., Parry, C.D.H. (2014). Alcohol and other Drug Use during Pregnancy among women attending Midwife Obstetric Units in the Cape Metropole, South Africa. Advances In Preventive Medicine. Vol. 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/871427