Don’t abandon mothers, disrupt the medical taboo

Earthshaking disruption at TEDxBrusselsChange

Inspired by the Gates Foundation’s initiative, the TEDxBrussels team aimed to bring the spirit of TEDxChange to the heart of Europe. TEDxBrussels is already a sizeable platform that enables speakers to give their ideas and amazing projects a lot of visibility (see the paraorchestra story). However, more could be done for global health and development, particularly when Europe is rife with innovation and ideas.

So, on April 3rd, 7,967 kms (or ~1/5 of Earth’s circumference) away from TEDxChange in Seattle, a small community of individuals passionate about healthcare issues gathered in UCB’s lecture hall for TEDxBrusselsChange.  The event featured a simultcast of TEDxChange of course, but also presented three projects with an abundance of positive disruptive energy. Sylvie Coumel and Phyllis Zimmer presented their project Connecting NursesPeter Vander Auwera presented Corporate Rebels United; and Lode Dewulf provided the grand finale with his controversial but inspiring idea about breaking an important medical taboo.

Here is a summary of his talk:

The issue

1 in every 1000 women is diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy.

Today, children can be treated when they fall ill and parents can trust that the medicine they give is backed by sound scientific evidence. However, this wasn’t always the case – the legal framework that governs drug research in children had to go through a long period of ignorance before being put in place. When it comes to pregnancy and what women can and can’t do, there are still a lot of unknowns. In the past, pregnant women were under the impression that nothing they do would affect the baby in the womb. But in the 1950s, as a result of thalidomide use, thousands of children were tragically born with deformities. And perceptions changed, women became more cautious and an attitude of “everything mothers do affects the baby” predominated. Since then, medicine has made a lot of progress. Our kids can be treated when they fall ill, however, when it comes to pregnancy, the taboo remains. No research is conducted and there is no data on which to make clinical decisions. Why does it matter? This taboo is limiting the options available to women who have a chronic or severe disease. They are frequently advised to abort prior to treatment, or they are told not to have children at all. The reason this type of advice persists is because healthcare providers might not be aware of other treatment options or they are fearful of being sued. This is a problem that has been ignored long enough; it is time to act.

Lode Dewulf's disruptive solution


1. Break the silence The most important change that needs to happen is that mothers and fathers break the silence. If you have a disease and want a child:
- Talk about it
- Talk about it early
- Seek advice
- Don’t take no for an answer

2. Collect the data Classical studies are generally not possible, but we can collect and share the experiences of pregnant women and look at the outcomes. This will build our understanding.

3. Collaborate for better solutions Once we understand the effects of these drugs during pregnancies, we can find better solutions.
So, we ask you this: Break the silence, share this talk. It may give someone hope.

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