Normally, I would consider this post for another of my blogs, but I think that it is important enough to place it here. This story has just come to my attention and as a mother I grieve for the babies concerned.
The birth defects that resulted from mothers taking thalidomide is well documented. The original children were born in the 1950s with the drug being withdrawn from the market in the 1960s. At the time mothers were given thalidomide as an anti-nausea in pregnancy drug. It was the later disgraced Dr. William McBride, an Australian researcher who was the first to make the link between thalidomide and birth defects.
For a very long time thalidomide was given the cold shoulder. Thankfully, when I was pregnant Thalidomide was not available, but I took Debendox so you can imagin my surprise when I heard that it had been implicated for birth defects (except it was not true). As time marched on though, Thalidomide was considered to treat other conditions, and in Brazil, Thalidomide was licensed to treat leprosy in 1965.
Leprosy is more prevalent in Brazil than in any other country except India. More than 30,000 new cases are diagnosed each year – and millions of Thalidomide pills are distributed.
Researchers now say 100 Brazilian children have injuries exactly like those caused by Thalidomide.
“A tragedy is occurring in Brazil… it is a syndrome which is completely avoidable,” says Dr Lavinia Schuler-Faccini, a professor at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul.
But campaigners, doctors and leprosy sufferers say the drug is vital. They believe the benefits outweigh the risks.
Is it worth the risk? What about the injuries to the babies that have been born with born? There are now more than 100 babies who have similar conditions to those of the first Thalidomide babies. Can they not find another medicine to treat the leprosy?
There are other medicines on the market that are extremely toxic to the reproductive system, and especially to the growing fetus. Anti-cancer drugs are known for their toxic effects and the same goes for some of the drugs prescribed for athritis as well as the drug prescribed for stubborn acne conditions. Those drugs come with a precaution that the woman must not get pregnant whilst on those drugs, and that they must wait for a period after coming off of them.
Thalidomide should not be available unless it is with very strict supervision. I know that there is an attitude out there that one cannot discriminate against people with leprosy etc. but I continue to believe that isolation is the key. This article outlines the story of one child born with the defects one gets from taking Thalidomide. She took the drug even though it had not been prescribed!! If this is representative of how this defect is occurring again, then it means that the Brazilian medical authorities need to consider very strict conditions with regard to its distribution. No patient should be given the medication to take home. It should be locked away so that non-leprosy patients cannot get their hands on this drug.
I do not agree with the idea of benefits outweighing the other factors, especially where thalidomide is concerned. The health of the unborn child should be considered over and above the health of those who get leprosy or any other disease they care to treat with Thalidomide. It is either strict conditions or entirely remove it from the open market anywhere in the world.