Monday, November 24, 2014

Victims of 1960s Thalidomide seek Canadian justice SPECIAL

BY TIM SANDLE  -- Nov 24, 2014

Toronto - Over fifty years after the drug, Thalidomide, was prescribed as a morning sickness treatment for pregnant women, their surviving children are campaigning for financial support from Canada's federal government.

Ninety-five of the victims from the Thalidomide scandal are alive and residing in Canada. The victims have to cope with the appalling results of the wrongly prescribed drug. Their unfortunate legacy includes missing and malformed limbs, deafness, blindness, disfigurement, and a range of other internal disabilities. Day to day living is hard, for the survivors’ health care and mobility needs exceeds the support available under provincial health care plans. As it stands, the financial costs of being a Thalidomide victim runs into several hundred thousand dollars a year.

A charity called Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada has launched a new campaign for justice. The non-profit organization aims to work with MP’s and the Federal Government with the aim of providing long term financial support to the survivors.

Contacting Digital Journal, Mercedes Benegbi, Executive Director, Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, explained why the current campaign is important. Benegbi states: “Without government funding, most survivors will continue to live a state of never-ending crisis – one that is not only physical, but also financial, and emotional."

Mercedes Benegbi is herself a 51 year old thalidomide survivor born with no arms and a stunted shape as a result of the drug.

In 1959 the drug Thalidomide became available worldwide, developed by the German drug company Chemie Grünenthal. The medication was prescribed by doctors to treat nausea and insomnia in pregnant women. During this time period the use of medications during pregnancy was not strictly controlled, and drugs were not thoroughly tested for potential harm to the fetus.

In 1959, Benegbi explains, despite the fact that the U.S. Government had refused to authorize the medication, the Canadian Food and Drug Directorate (CFDC) gave its approval. Worse still, once the drug’s tragic side effects became evident to the scientific community, the drug was withdrawn in in Germany and in the U.K.. In Canada itself, two months the medication went on sale, pharmaceutical companies sent physicians letters warning about the risk of birth defects.However, it took three months for the CFDC (now Health Canada) to put a stop the use of Thalidomide.

Outlining what is needed, Benegi states succinctly: “Canadian-born survivors will need at least $100,000 a year, on average, plus a lump-sum payment to bring them up to par with their UK brothers and sisters.”
The only direct funding support from the federal government, to date, occurred in 1991, when Health Canada provided a one-off payment of around $65,000 to each survivor. However, no long term solution was offered. The limited funds that were provided have long been used up.

Benegbi went onto to outline what the victims expect: “The living victims of Thalidomide bear a physical and financial burden that is extraordinary and undeserved. By granting our funding request, Canadians and their government will be acknowledging that, in the past, a wrong was done. And, not only will such a wrong never happen again, they can be proud that they have done the best they can to make right to victims of this serious error in judgment and drug regulation. ”

The victims are hoping that many Canadians will contact the federal government and MPs and ask them to right the wrong. A special webpage has been set up called "Right the Wrong." The aim is to publicize the issue and to put pressure on those in power.

See also: Opposition parties to urge Ottawa to fairly compensate thalidomide survivors