World Bulletin/News Desk
Victims of thalidomide said on Saturday an apology from the German inventor of the drug that caused birth defects in thousands of babies around the world was too little too late.
Thalidomide, developed by the German firm Gruenenthal, was marketed internationally to pregnant women in the late 1950s and early 1960s as a treatment for morning sickness. About 10,000 babies were born around the world with defects caused by the drug, mostly malformed limbs or missing arms or legs.
"Having tried to remind them of their criminal behaviour across a negotiating table on several occasions, I didn't think this company would ever make things right," said British thalidomide victim Geoff Adams-Spink.
"This is an important first step. The next is to compensate everyone damaged by their so-called 'totally harmless' drug," said Adams-Spink, who heads the European Dysmelia Reference Information Centre, a support group for those with limb malformations attributable to thalidomide and other causes.
Gruenenthal, which says it had paid roughly 500 million euros to victims by 2010, unveiled a commemorative statue on Friday. At the ceremony, its chief executive, Harald Stock, said the company was sorry for what had happened to the victims.
"In the name of Gruenenthal ... I want to take this opportunity to express our deep regret over the consequences of Contergan and our deep sympathy for the victims, their mothers and families," Stock said at the ceremony in the western German city of Stolberg, where the company is based.
"We also ask for forgiveness for not reaching out to you from human to human for almost 50 years ... We ask that you see our long speechlessness as a sign of the silent shock that your fate has caused us."
Several thousand victims of thalidomide, sold in Germany under the brand name Contergan and elsewhere as Distaval, are still alive.
Gruenenthal was not reachable for comment and it was not clear whether the 500 million euros in payments had been to victims in Germany only or also abroad, where other firms marketed the drug.
German thalidomide victims get a monthly pension of up to 1,116 euros from a trust to which Gruenenthal contributes.
An Australian woman whose daughter won a multi-million dollar settlement in July against Diageo Plc, the legal successor to thalidomide's Australian distributor, said the apology was an insult.
"It's the sort of apology you give when you're not really sorry," Wendy Rowe told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Lynette Rowe, now 50, was born without arms or legs after her mother took thalidomide for a month while pregnant. Her lawyers said Gruenenthal did not contribute to the settlement.
Referring to Stock's statement of 'silent shock', Wendy Rowe said: "Our family couldn't have gone into silent shock. We had to get up and face each day and every day and cope with the incredible damage that Gruenenthal drug did to Lyn and our family."
The Rowe family's legal firm, Slater & Gordon, called the drug manufacturer's apology "pathetic": "It is too little, too late and riddled with further deceit."
Rowe's settlement followed a A$50 million payment Diageo agreed to make in 2010 to 45 thalidomide victims in Australia and New Zealand, who sought help to cope with the mounting costs of care as they were living longer than expected.
The cases have been closely watched in the United States, where a complaint has been filed against GlaxoSmithKline , Sanofi-Aventis, Avantor Performance Materials and Gruenenthal, with several plaintiffs claiming their birth defects resulted from their mothers' use of thalidomide.
The thalidomide scandal triggered a worldwide overhaul of drug-testing regimes and boosted the reputation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which refused to approve the drug.
Gruenenthal said it had acted to the best of its knowledge.
"In developing Contergan, Gruenenthal acted according to the scientific knowledge back then and fulfilled all industrial standards for the testing of new medication," Stock said.
Many German thalidomide victims stayed away from the unveiling of Gruenenthal's statue, which portrays a child with shortened arms, calling it a public relations stunt.
"The fact that Gruenenthal, a billion-euro company, is paying 5,000 euros (for the statue) is a slap in the face of every victim," said the federal association of Contergan victims.
"This PR measure is supposed to signal to the public that the company still has Contergan on its agenda, without any serious effort to address the concerns of the people who have been permanently damaged."
Equipment donation to children's oncology institute is first project of state-run aid agency TIKA in Brazil
Some 450 other suspected cases seen in island nation; president says health workers are able to contain epidemic
UN says 900,000 doses of oral vaccine are to be given to Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar
3 cholera quarantine centers have been formed where victims are being treated
12 cases confirmed, 32 persons quarantined to halt spread of disease, says disease control body
Provided by UNICEF, vaccinations will be administered by public health officials in Syria’s Idlib province
Eggs tainted by the insecticide mostly originate from farms in those two countries but have since been found in 45 nations worldwide, the European health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitisa said last week.
The UN says cholera is a major public health problem in the country with millions of cases registered every year. Last year, the disease claimed 817 lives there, according to the WHO.
The ministerial meeting will include representatives from some 30 countries, according to Canada's minister of environment and climate change, Catherine McKenna.
Cholera is endemic in Nigeria, with a rise in cases during rainy season from April to September, says disease control center
Police officers tested positive for cholera after eating infected food; health minister blames food workers
"Up to September 1, 14 deaths have been reported," the health ministry said in a statement, adding that "the total number of suspected cholera cases stands at 186."
Pharmaceutical company says treatment has more than 80 percent success rate for form of leukemia
Federal agency orders StemImmune to stop injecting vaccine into tumors of cancer patients
565,041 suspected cases of cholera have been recorded in the country since April 27
Unknown health risks include cancer, respiratory diseases, birth defects and reduced cognition