January 27, 2011

Study tracks fetal-harming drugs in developing nations

Study tracks fetal-harming drugs in developing nations

In her native country of Haiti, Vanderbilt research fellow Astride Jules, M.D., MPH, saw many women give birth to infants who had fetal abnormalities during her residency training in Pediatrics.

Astride Jules, M.D., MPH

Astride Jules, M.D., MPH

Jules, a pediatrician in Haiti, documents, in a study published in Academic Pediatrics Journal, that women in Haiti, and possibly in other developing countries, report use of harmful medications during pregnancy. Many of those medications were obtained on the black market or from a pharmacy without a prescription.

During the four-month study, Jules surveyed 482 women who had given birth to infants in hospitals. About 75 percent of the women took at least one medication. About 61 women took fetal-harming drugs during pregnancy, and about three quarters of them used the medications to induce abortion.

The most common fetal-harming drugs were misoprostol and tetracycline. Fetal abnormalities seen included cleft palate, hydrocephalus and anencephaly.

Jules said she wants the study to increase awareness about medication use in Haiti.

“I hope these findings motivate people in the Ministry of Health to regulate the distribution of medication,” said Jules, who moved to Nashville in June after Haiti's devastating earthquake. “They also need to work on family planning to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies. This could reduce the use of these harmful drugs.”

Jules worries that the 2010 earthquake in Haiti could set the country back on any possible progress in family planning education.

William Cooper, M.D., MPH, professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine, said the findings are important for public health. He served as Jules' mentor for the study.

“The findings highlight the large number of mothers and infants at risk for adverse outcomes because of medication exposures that occur as a result of black market trading or the mother obtaining medications from a friend or relative,” Cooper said.

Jules also hopes the study alerts physicians in the United States to the fact that newer immigrant women could be using similar drugs.

“Some immigrant women may be using harmful drugs, sometimes to have an abortion,” Jules said. “Physicians should be doing a medication intake of women and of family members to detect any usage of these medications.”