MEP urges Merkel to pursue justice for Thalidomide victims

| March 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

11030016 (1) BBritish MEP Syed Kamall is urging Angela Merkel to back a campaign to “win justice” for victims of Thalidomide.

It was a German company, Grunenthal, that produced Thalidomide and evidence is coming to light that showed the German government interfered in a court case in 1970.

The early cessation of the trial has,it is claimed, prevented evidence about Thalidomide’s effects from coming out so that lawyers for the victims can take action to gain compensation.

As the victims are now getting older they are struggling to meet their health costs.

A spokesman for the victims said: “In the main they want justice.”

Now Kamall, who leads the ECR group in parliament, has written an open letter to the German Chancellor asking her to support the growing campaign to “address the humanitarian needs” of Thalidomide victims.

The letter says “there would seem to be a moral obligation for the current German government finally to address the humanitarian needs” of the small number of remaining European Thalidomide survivors.

“I believe there is significant support for this position in the European Parliament,” he writes.

Kamall, a Tory deputy, asks Merkel to meet representatives of survivors, possibly accompanied by MEPs, “with a view to sympathetic consideration” of the case of victims in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

After years of neglect by authorities and by Grünenthal, the company that manufactured the drug – which worldwide left 10,000 infants without limbs, half of whom died – the German government’s decision in 2013 to considerably raise pension payments to the victims was widely hailed as a victory for victims who have spent years campaigning for fair compensation.

Grünenthal had paid an additional €50 million (£37m) into the fund in 2009.

Survivors’ groups have even alleged that the government is actively hindering victims from accessing the full amount of money they were promised in the runup to the 2013 election.

Depending on their level of disability, Contergan survivors in Germany now receive an annual pension of between €7,300 to €83,000.

They are also able to tap into a €30m “special needs” fund for crucial investments such as dental operations, specially commissioned furniture or electric wheelchairs, controlled by the government-controlled Contergan Foundation.

Yet in reality, survivors say they are hindered from accessing the fund by what Andreas Meyer, the president of Germany’s association of Contergan victims (BCG) and also a survivor, has described as a “catastrophically inefficient” bureaucratic process.

Thalidomide was considered to be a safe, risk-free medication, but it was not tested on pregnant women. During 1960, doctors began to worry about the drug’s side effects, after long-term users reported nerve damage. But soon the extent of the side effects were clear.

Thalidomide was found to harm the development of unborn babies and cause serious birth defects, especially if taken in the first four to eight weeks of pregnancy. The drug led to the arms or legs of the babies being very short or incompletely formed. Other side effects also included deformed eyes, ears and hearts.

In the late 50s and early 60s over 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. Around 40% of thalidomide babies are reported to die at or shortly after birth.

The drug was withdrawn in 1961 before the UK government issued a warning in May 1962. Thalidomide is now used as part of treatment programmes for cancer and leprosy sufferers. Its use is heavily regulated – women taking thalidomide now have to take two forms of birth control and take regular pregnancy tests.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Parliament, Health, Thalidomide

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