(MENAFN) In a historic move, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has issued a formal national apology to the victims of thalidomide, a morning sickness drug that resulted in severe birth defects for around 100,000 babies worldwide. This marks the first time the Australian government has publicly recognized its involvement in the thalidomide scandal.
Addressing a group of survivors in parliament on Wednesday, Albanese expressed deep remorse, stating, "To the survivors – we apologize for the pain thalidomide has inflicted on each and every one of you each and every day. We are sorry. We are more sorry than we can say." The prime minister characterized the apology as an acknowledgment of one of the darkest chapters in Australia's medical history.
Thalidomide, developed by the German pharmaceutical company Grunenthal, was marketed as a remedy for morning sickness and a non-addictive sleeping tablet between 1957 and 1961. Shortly after its introduction to the market, the drug was linked to severe birth defects, including shortened or missing limbs. Some pregnancies were terminated prematurely, and some children exposed to thalidomide in the womb did not survive to puberty.
While estimates from the Thalidomide Trust suggest that around 100,000 thalidomide babies were born globally, the exact number of affected individuals in Australia remains unclear. A 2019 report by the Australian Senate in Canberra revealed that 20 percent of the country's cases could potentially have been avoided if the government had taken earlier action to remove the drug from circulation. Although the government never officially admitted liability, survivors were offered one-time payments of up to AU USD500,000 (USD332,000) and annual compensation of up to AU USD60,000 in 2019.
The prime minister's apology is seen as a significant step towards acknowledging the government's responsibility in addressing the devastating consequences of thalidomide. It also brings attention to the importance of learning from past medical tragedies to ensure the safety and well-being of future generations.
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