In a parliamentary ceremony in Canberra, Albanese apologized to the many survivors, on the 62nd anniversary of the drug being withdrawn from sale in the country, leaving a trail of “trauma, grief and damage “, according to the prime minister.
“Today, on behalf of the people of Australia, our Government and this Parliament extend a full, unreserved and long-overdue apology to all thalidomide survivors, their families, loved ones life and caregivers,” Albanese said at the beginning of the nearly half-hour speech.
“This apology covers one of the darkest chapters in the history of Australian medicine”, when “pregnant women, through no fault of their own, were exposed to a drug with harmful side effects and realized it was too late”, he said during the event, broadcast by the public station ABC.
There are currently 146 registered victims of thalidomide in Australia, although the true number is unknown, and many of them have gone to parliament to follow up with public apologies.
“To the survivors: we apologize for the pain that thalidomide inflicts on each of you, every day,” Albanese said.
Thalidomide, a drug produced by the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal GmbH and marketed in the 1950s and 1960s for nausea in early pregnancy, caused thousands of cases of fetal malformations in various countries.
“The thalidomide tragedy provides a powerful lesson in the need to be vigilant in protecting people’s health,” said Australian Health Minister Mark Butler.
The Government today announced the re-opening of the Australian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program, a lifelong support package that includes a lump sum payment in recognition of the pain and suffering of victims, as well as in ongoing annual payments.
The Health Minister will also inaugurate a national memorial to survivors and families on Thursday, on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, in Canberra.
A decade ago, a class action lawsuit brought by thalidomide survivors in Australia and New Zealand was settled by compensating the drug’s distributors.
The main malformation found is phocomelia, a congenital anomaly characterized by the absence or reduction in the size of the limbs.