Ghana’s Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) recently revealed that some pregnant Ghanaian women were using banned substances to lighten the complexion of their unborn babies.
One of the pills being abused by users is glutathione. The anti-oxidant is neither registered nor sold in any of the recognized pharmacy outlets in the country. The authority says they are smuggled into the country in large quantities through the airports.
Sales are mostly done online and through other unconventional retail outlets. The peddlers operate clandestinely, taking advantage of the gullibility of their victims to sell them dummy, according to investigation.
Not until the Food and Drugs Authority went to town, last week, with the news of the use of pills by pregnant women to lighten their babies’ skin tone, not many were aware of such bizarre happenings.
For instance, Adelaide, a public servant, who was visibly horrified by the unusual occurrence, told Daily Trust that she had never heard of it.
“I have not heard of it before. This is my first time of hearing this. You are the first person telling me this,” she exclaimed.
But the claim is real and there are pieces of evidence confirming the use of these dangerous substances by women, even during pregnancy, Mr. Emmanuel Nkrumah, Head Cosmetics and Household Chemical Substance Department of the Food and Drug Authority affirmed.
“Our surveillance system has received complaints. We have continuous collaboration with the health workers. We also have the Pharmacovigilance system, where we had surveys conducted in the hospitals across the country and they came up through a radio programme to reveal the trend.
“There were people who confessed that they were using them. And if you look at their faces before and after, they attest to the fact that they have been using drugs. Some people have also said they know women who are pregnant and are using the pills. It is not just a one off affair. It is persistent. It is something that keeps coming from all quarters,” he revealed.
According to Nkrumah, information available to the authority suggests that the drug users were mostly concentrated in Accra. Though not widespread, the emerging trend is worrisome. Hence, it should be nipped in the bud through mass enlightenment of the hazardous effect of taking pills that have not been approved by the FDA.
The use of the pills for bleaching purpose, it was gathered was not an isolated case. It cuts across board in the West African sub region. The authority strongly believes that the illegal substances may have found their way into Ghana from one of the nearby countries.
The FDA said it was strengthening its surveillance network with the security agencies, especially the customs and other government agencies to curb the influx of the abused substances into the country, even as it was making efforts to uncover the perpetrators of the illegal act.
According to the regulator, investigations were ongoing while laboratory examinations were being conducted to ascertain whether the pills were potentially skin lighteners.
Meanwhile, the public are being warned of the hazardous effects of taking the pills, especially in pregnancy. FDA maintained that using glutathione for the purpose was dangerous and capable of causing physical impairments in the baby. For instance, damage to the limbs and internal organs.
Two doctors at the University of Ghana Legon Hospital, who preferred anonymity in separate interviews, expressed fears over the health of both the mother and child due to the introduction of the bleaching substance.
The first doctor’s prognosis was even more damning than what the regulator warned about. Aside physical deformity, the baby may suffer serious brain damage, sight and hearing defects. In extreme cases, abortion may occur while some risk stillbirths.
“Anything not prescribed by the doctor taken by the mother could impact negatively on the well-being of the child. Several factors will determine the severity of the effect. The extent of the drug usage; where there is excessive intake, the effect can be very severe. The baby runs the risk of coming out with all kinds of problems, the heart, kidneys, liver are at risk. There are also other deformities that are not noticeable until the baby begins to grow. We could be talking of damage to the sight, brain and hearing,” he warned.
Even the mothers were not insulated from the risks associated with the intake of the pills. “Continuous intake may result in organ damage,” he added.
His colleague went further to suggest that the effect may be delayed and passed on to the next generation.
“I am trying to cite the example of the Hiroshima tragedy. Most of the children born years after them came out with serious medical problems,” he reasoned.
Sheila, a student of the University of Legon admonished women who bleach their skin to be proud of their God given complexion.
“I think it is a case of low self-esteem because some people think fair skin equals beauty. And this is a very stupid mentality. I will never think like that. I think you should love yourself for who you are. You should accept yourself the way you are. That’s how people will love and accept you,” she advised.
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