Australia to issue national apology to citizens affected by ‘Thalidomide birth defects’

‘The thalidomide tragedy is a dark chapter in the history of our nation and the world’

Arpan Rai
Monday 13 November 2023 12:10 GMT
Related video: Biden welcomes Australia PM Anthony Albanese to White House

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Louise Thomas

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Australia will formally apologise to citizens who were impacted by the “Thalidomide tragedy” more than half a century ago.

The tragedy refers to when babies in the country were born with birth defects due to the morning sickness pill their mothers took.

The thalidomide tragedy is a dark chapter in the history of our nation and the world,” Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said on Monday.

“The survivors, their families, friends and carers have advocated for this apology with courage and conviction for many years,” he said.

“This moment is a long overdue national acknowledgment of all they have endured and all they have fought for.”

Mr Albanese will deliver the apology in parliament on 29 November. There are 146 Thalidomide survivors registered with the government, but the exact number of affected women and children is unknown.

“In giving this apology, we will acknowledge all those babies who died and the families who mourn them, as well as those who survived but whose lives were made so much harder by the effects of this terrible drug,” Mr Albanese said.

Several pregnant women in Australia and around the world in the early 1960s were affected by thalidomide, an active ingredient in a widely distributed sedative. The drug caused malformation of limbs, facial features and internal organs in unborn children.

Thalidomide was developed by German firm Gruenenthal. It killed an estimated 80,000 children around the world before they were born. At least 20,000 more were born with defects.

The drug was used between 1957-62 as a sedative and to treat morning sickness in early pregnancy. A serious side effect, however, resulted in over 10,000 children being born with severe birth defects.

The scandal sparked an international overhaul of drug-testing regimes and bolstered the reputation of the US Food and Drug Administration. The agency was a lone voice in refusing to approve the drug, although it was distributed in the US for testing.

The British government had apologised to victims in its country in 2010.

An Australian woman, who was born without arms and legs after her mother took Thalidomide, won a multimillion-dollar settlement from local distributor Diageo Plc in 2012.

In 2010, Diageo agreed to make an AUD$50m (£26m) payment to 45 victims in Australia and New Zealand.

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