NAt a parliamentary ceremony in Canberra, Albanese offered an apology to several survivors, on the 62nd anniversary of the drug being withdrawn from sale in the country, which left a trail of “trauma, sadness and damage”, according to the prime minister.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 and carers,” Albanese said in the beginning of the almost 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 devastating effects and realized it too late”, he said during the event, broadcast on public station ABC.
There are currently 146 registered thalidomide victims in Australia, although the real number is unknown, and several of them went to parliament to follow the public apology.
“To the survivors: we apologize for the pain that thalidomide inflicted on each of you, every day,” Albanese said.
Thalidomide, a drug manufactured by the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal GmbH and marketed in the 1950s and 1960s for nausea in early pregnancy, has caused thousands of cases of fetal malformations in different 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 reopening of the Australian Thalidomide Survivors Support Program, a lifelong support package that includes a one-off payment in recognition of victims’ pain and suffering, as well as 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 resolved with the payment of compensation by the drug’s distributors.
The main malformation detected was phocomelia, a congenital anomaly characterized by the absence or reduced size of limbs.
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