EU lawmakers urged Germany on Thursday to grant broader access for other Europeans to its fund for victims of the drug thalidomide, which caused birth defects in thousands of babies in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a non-binding motion supporting victims who have not been compensated more than 50 years after their mothers took the drug to combat morning sickness, with devastating results. Thalidomide, developed by the German firm Gruenenthal, was sold under the name Contergan in Germany, and elsewhere as Distaval. Many victims were born with missing arms or legs, deformed limbs or severe nerve damage.
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The parliament motion urges the manufacturer to provide proper compensation and care to victims not yet recognised. It refers to some 2,700 German thalidomide sufferers, 500 in Britain and in Italy, 200 in Spain and 100 in Sweden.
Nick Dobrik of Britain’s Thalidomide National Advisory Trust said the vote took the fight for compensation from Germany a “massive step closer”, saying an annual payment of 12 million euros ($12.5 million) would help cover rising costs for survivors in Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden.
A number of Spanish lawmakers spoke in a debate on Wednesday, complaining that victims there had not received compensation from the fund set up by Germany in 1972, which includes public money.
“There are already funds. We don’t need more resources. What we are demanding today is that we reduce red tape and that we make the requirements less heavy so that people can have access to this special fund. The health of the victims is deteriorating every day,” said conservative Esteban Gonzalez Pons.
Beatriz Becerra Basterrechea, a liberal, said just two Spaniards had received funds: “The Contergan foundation has provided prohibitive requirements from them … like presenting the original box the mothers bought,” she said.
Jill Evans, a Welsh nationalist, urged the German government to allow access to the health scheme to allow surviving thalidomide victims to deal with increasing health costs.
“It’s been over 50 years, it’s been far too long,” she said. The motion referred to evidence that the German government interfered with the criminal proceedings against drug maker Chemie Gruenenthal in 1970, resulting in no proper determination of guilt of the manufacturer, and that steps were taken to prevent civil proceedings.
The German Family Ministry said it was watching the debate closely. A spokesman said the Contergan foundation was already giving money to affected people around the world provided their condition was linked to their mothers’ taking thalidomide from Gruenenthal during pregnancy. ($1 = 0.9619 euros)