What happened to Thalidomide babies?
Summary of story from BBC News, November 8, 2011
In November 1961, a newspaper reported that Thalidomide, a sedative drug commonly used by pregnant women to ease morning sickness, was responsible for a spate of disabled babies born in Germany after 1958.
On November 26 the drug’s producer, Chemie Gruenenthal, withdrew all products containing Thalidomide from what had been very lucrative, over-the-counter sales.
A few days later, Thalidomide’s British licensee, Distillers, followed suit in the UK. But by then, the damage was done.
In Germany alone, 10,000 babies were born affected by Thalidomide. Many were too damaged to survive for long.
And the drug didn’t disappear – medical researchers discovered it could be extremely effective in certain treatments.
In Brazil, where the drug has been widely used in treating certain leprosy symptoms, there is now another, younger generation of about 800 disabled Thalidomide survivors.
In recent years, around 470 UK survivors have won concessions from the government, the tax authorities and Distillers’ successor company, which has boosted current average compensation pay-outs in the UK to around £40,000 a year.
But elsewhere, survivors still get nothing, or very little.
Of today’s 6,000 estimated survivors around the world, nearly half fall under the compensation deal in Germany, which currently provides a yearly maximum of about £11,840, not enough to cover the needs of those with multiple limb deficiencies.
While campaigns for higher compensation rates are progressing, it has been suggested that things could change dramatically if proof is found that it was not Chemie Gruenenthal which discovered Thalidomide, as has always been claimed, but scientists working for the Nazi regime.
Gruenenthal patented Thalidomide in the mid-1950s. But investigations in the past two years have confirmed that the German brand-name – Contergan – was owned by the French pharma-company, Rhone-Poulenc, during the early 1940s, when it was effectively under Nazi control.
It is also now becoming clear that Gruenenthal was part of a post-war network of German scientists and businessmen who had played leading roles during the Nazi era.
Immediately after the war, Gruenenthal employed Dr Heinrich Mueckter as its chief scientist, who was sought in Poland on charges of war crimes after conducting medical experiments in prison camps, during which hundreds of prisoners may have died.
Frederick Dove, who wrote this article, and who has been affected by Thalidomide, said: “On 26 November – 50 years on – we, the German survivors, will march, waddle, limp or roll in wheelchairs from the Brandenburg Gate to the Federal Chancellery in Berlin.
“To celebrate that we are still alive, and to remember those who never lived.”