Know the side effects of your medicine

Drugs1 File photo

Sat, 2 Jul 2016 Source: Godwill Arthur-Mensah

The World Health Organisation at its 1978 Conference in Soviet Union produced the Alma-Ata Health Declaration, which was designed to serve governments as a basis for planning healthcare.

This was expected to reach people at all levels of the society.

The declaration re-affirmed that “health, which is a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely absence of disease or infirmity, is a fundamental human right”.

Early medicine and folklore

Unwritten history of medicine is not easy to interpret and understand although much may be learned from a study of the drawings, bony remains, and surgical tools of early human beings.

It seems medicine was probably discovered though various stages of reasoning, trial and error with different species of plants to determine poisonous ones and those with medicinal value.

Magic and religion is also said to have played a role in the medicine of prehistoric society. Administration of a vegetable drug or remedy by mouth was accompanied by incantations, dancing and grimaces.

The first medicine men known as “witch doctors” used charms and talisman, the practice which is still prevalent in modern times.

Early medical traditions of Babylon, China, Egypt and India affirmed various means medicine was discovered. However, the Greeks introduced the concepts of medical diagnosis, prognosis and advanced medical ethics.

For instance, the Hippocratic Oath sworn by medical practitioners was written by the Greeks in the fifth century BC.

In the medieval age, surgical practices inherited from the ancient masters were improved and systematised. The systematic training of physicians began around 1220 in Italy.

During the Renaissance period, understanding of anatomy of man improved and the microscope was invented.

The germ theory of disease in the 19th century led to cures for many infectious diseases. Advanced research centres were opened in the early 20th century, often connected with major hospitals.

The mid- 20th century was characterised by new biological treatments with antibiotics.

In the 1830s in Italy, Agostino Bassi traced the silkworm disease, muscardine to micro-organisms. In Germany, Theodor Schwann led research on alcoholic fermentation by yeast.

Importance of medicine to humanity

The word medicine was derived from the Latin word “Ars Medicina” meaning “The art of healing”.

Medicine is considered one of the most important necessities of life and it is a branch of the health sciences concerned with maintaining and restoring human health through diagnosis, treatment and possible prevention of disease, injury and other damages to the body or mind.

This branch of science encompasses treatment by drugs, diet, exercise and other non-surgical means.

An agent like drug is used to treat disease or injury. There are different kinds of medicine such as herbal, which comes from different kinds of plant species, seeds, berries, roots, leaves, bark of trees, or flowers.

Plants had been used for medicinal purposes long before the recorded history although the specific ingredient that causes a therapeutic effect is not known but it is likely they work together to produce the desired medicinal effects.

Some medicines may cause problems if taken with other medicines. This is why it is important for one to tell his or her doctor and pharmacist about all the medicines he or she is taking even if the dose is correct.

In this regard, Mr Alfred Dadzie, a Clinical Pharmacist at the Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital, has advised the public to inform their doctors or pharmacists when they experience any adverse effects after taking medicine.

He said the storage of medicines could have effect on their chemical composition and therefore affect consumers negatively.

He therefore asked the public to be vigilant and report any counterfeit household chemicals, blood and blood-related products, vaccines, anti-biotics and cosmetics to the pharmacists or Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) for investigation.

He cited the thalidomide disaster in 1960s which is one of the darkest episodes in pharmaceutical research history.

The drug” thalidomide” was marketed as a mild sleeping pill safe even for pregnant women and were sold in 46 countries across the globe.

Dr William McBride, an Australian Obstetrician, also discovered that thalidomide is good for alleviating morning sickness and recommended it as off-label use for his pregnant patients.

However, it caused thousands of babies delivered by the expectant mothers who took the medicine worldwide to have malformed limbs.

Many children born in that period were with phocomelia (shortened limps) as a side effect of the drug.

The clinical pharmacist noted that people react to medicines due to differences in genetics and, therefore, admonished breastfeeding mothers and caregivers to report any abnormal reaction of their babies after every immunisation.

Mr Dadzie said the Ghana Health Service had added pharmacovigilance assessment to its Annual Peer Review Mechanism.

Explaining the term pharmacovigilance, he said, it is the science and activities relating to the detection, assessment, understanding and prevention of adverse effects of drugs and other drug-related problems.

He said it also involves monitoring the effects of medicines after they had been licensed for use, especially in order to identify and evaluate previously unreported adverse reactions.

It is often done to improve the safety of drugs and ensure minimal risks and increase their benefits to consumers, he said.

The FDA has advised the public to report any adverse effects of medicines to the nearest health facility or community pharmacy for prompt action.

Mr Abu Sumailar, the Western Regional Manager of the FDA indicated that every medicine has some side effects with unpleasant reactions like nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, headache and sometimes deaths.

He said over the years, the FDA had tried to improve the safety of medicines by receiving feedback from patients through institutional contact persons in various health facilities.

However, he said, the feedback had not been forthcoming; therefore, the Authority decided to revive the feedback reporting by training physicians, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technicians from selected public and private health facilities in 15 districts in the Region, in order to improve healthcare delivery.

This, according to him, would aid the Authority to investigate any adverse effects of medicines, especially reactions which are previously unknown.

He said the FDA undertook the training in partnership with the Ghana Health Service for health professionals selected from the Effia-Nkwanta Regional, Takoradi, Essikado Hospital and, Kwesimintsim Polyclinic, as well as other private health facilities in the Region.

The Regional FDA boss asked the health professionals to fill adverse drug reaction forms for patients whenever they report any side effects of medicines and submit them to the Authority for the necessary action.

The Authority had created Patients Safety Centres in community pharmacies across the country and the public supposed to report any adverse effects of medicines to the centres.

He observed that although there is no sanction for health professionals for mistakenly prescribing wrong medication for patients in Ghana, however, in advanced countries, it could end up in an uncompromising legal tussle and advised them to be circumspect in prescribing drugs to patients.

The Eric Declaration on Communicating Drug Safety Information was first published in September 1997, provides a vision of vigorous, open, ethical and patient-centred communications in drug safety.

The declaration also provides the framework of values and practices for collection, analysis and subsequent communication of drug safety issues.

Reporting side effects of medicine could save millions of lives, therefore, be a good and patriotic citizen by informing the FDA and your pharmacists for a prompt response.

Columnist: Godwill Arthur-Mensah