Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese publicly apologized Wednesday to survivors of thalidomide, a drug widely prescribed for more than 60 years that causes malformations in fetuses.
In a parliamentary ceremony in Canberra, Albanese issued an apology to many survivors on the 62nd anniversary of the drug being withdrawn from sale in the country, leaving a trail of “trauma, grief and damage”, according to the prime minister.
“Now, for the people of Australia, our Government and this Parliament offer a full, unreserved and long-overdue apology to all thalidomide survivors, families, loved ones and caregivers,” Albanese said at the start of the nearly half-hour speech.
“This is an apology constitutes one of the darkest chapters in Australian medical history“, when “pregnant women, through no fault of their own, are exposed to a drug with harmful effects and realize it too late”, he said during the event, broadcast by the public broadcaster ABC .
There are currently 146 registered thalidomide victims in Australia although the true number is unknown, and many of them went to Parliament to accompany the public apology.
“To the survivors: We apologize for the pain that thalidomide inflicts on each of you, every day” said the Albanian.
Thalidomide, a drug manufactured by the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal GmbH and sold in the 1950s and 1960s for nausea in early pregnancy causing thousands of cases of fetal malformations in different countries.
“The thalidomide tragedy provides a powerful lesson about should be careful to protect people’s health“, said Australian Health Minister Mark Butler.
The Government announced this Wednesday the reopening of the Australian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program, a lifetime assistance package that includes a one-time payment in recognition of the victims’ pain and suffering as well as ongoing annual payments.
The Minister of Health also inaugurated the national memorial to the survivors and families on Thursday on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, in Canberra.
A decade ago, a class action lawsuit brought by thalidomide survivors in Australia and New Zealand was settled with the payment of a payment from drug dealers.
The main malformation found is phocomelia, a congenital anomaly characterized by the absence or reduction in the size of the limbs.