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Albanese delivers thalidomide apology

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What is thalidomide? Prime Minister Anthony Albanese delivered an apology to survivors of the drug in Parliament today.
What is thalidomide? 

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese delivered a national apology to Australians impacted by the drug thalidomide in Parliament today.

Thalidomide was a medication given to pregnant women experiencing morning sickness in the 1960s.

It caused severe disabilities and premature deaths among thousands of babies.

What is thalidomide?

Thalidomide was a drug that was first sold in Germany in 1957 and distributed in 46 countries.

It was marketed and prescribed in several countries as a safe drug for women experiencing morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy. Thousands of women are believed to have taken it.

It was sold in Australia in 1960 and 1961. It was taken off shelves in 1961, and banned in 1962.

Effect of thalidomide

Some babies born to mothers using thalidomide reported a range of disabilities. This included shortened or absent limbs, facial disfigurement and brain injury.

Thalidomide survivors have reported lower health outcomes, including severe or continuous pain, and poor mental health.

High rates of premature death have also been reported. This includes miscarriages and infant deaths. Just a single dose could cause severe harm.

National apology

In his apology, Albanese said thalidomide represented “one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s medical history”.

While being promoted as a safe drug, there was no system that properly tested this claim when thalidomide was being sold in Australia.

Albanese said the Australian health system failed the mothers who used thalidomide. He said they had been haunted by “undeserved regret”
their whole lives.

Albanese apologised to the survivors, as well as their friends and families. A minute’s silence was observed for those who had suffered or died due to the drug.

“We know the toll of thalidomide is still felt today, we know it will still be felt tomorrow. We promise your legacy and your example will never be forgotten.”

Senate review

A national apology to thalidomide survivors and their families was recommended by a bipartisan Senate committee in 2019.

It also recommended creating a compensation scheme to support thalidomide survivors. This was formed in 2020, and provides one-off payments of up to $500,000 to survivors. The scheme also offers annual payments to help survivors meet their health needs.

Thalidomide support

A national site recognising the thalidomide tragedy will be unveiled in Canberra tomorrow. Creating this site was another recommendation made by the Senate committee.

During the apology, Albanese said the Government would reopen applications for the one-off survivor payment, and that annual payments would now increase due to inflation (rising prices).

This was welcomed by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who commended Albanese on the apology.

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