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Thalidomide victim campaign receive support among MEPs

MEPs have reaffirmed their support for an EU-wide campaign to “win justice” for EU thalidomide victims. The German pharmaceutical company Grunenthal marketed the drug in the late 1950s as a harmless pain killer, yet thalidomide proved to be the most infamous drug of modern times.

The drug caused thousands of foetal deaths and abnormalities worldwide.

Evidence has emerged that the trial of Grunenthal was prematurely ended in 1970 with the active participation and encouragement of the German Federal Government.

This meant that thousands of victims were, and continue to be, denied the right to the compensation they deserve.

Among those backing the campaign are MEPs from the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group.

Speaking at a press conference to show their support UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe said,: “An injustice endures 50 years on after the biggest peace time man-made disaster in European history with the abhorrent treatment of the Thalidomide survivors.”

“We believe that the best way forward is the German Government to allow their ambassadors in Sweden, Italy, Spain and the UK to meet with the representatives of those suffering and reach an honest and fair end to this injustice.”

Further comment came from Diane James, MEP and UKIP Home Affairs spokesman, who added: “Even in the UK we do not have a resolution of the problem and it ought to be a resolution found this year because most of the victims are in their 50s and they should not be another forgotten group who die with their problems unresolved and unrecognised.”

In the late 50s and early 60s over 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. Around 40% of thalidomide babies are reported to die at or shortly after birth.

The drug, which worldwide left 10,000 infants without limbs, half of whom died, was withdrawn in 1961 before the UK government issued a warning in May 1962.

Thalidomide is now used as part of treatment programmes for cancer and leprosy sufferers. Its use is heavily regulated – women taking thalidomide now have to take two forms of birth control and take regular pregnancy tests.

After years of neglect by authorities and by Grünenthal, the German government’s decision in 2013 to considerably raise pension payments to the victims was widely hailed as a victory for victims who have spent years campaigning for fair compensation.

Grünenthal had paid an additional €50m (£37m) into the fund in 2009.

Survivors’ groups have even alleged that the government is actively hindering victims from accessing the full amount of money they were promised in the run up to the 2013 election.

Depending on their level of disability, Contergan survivors in Germany now receive an annual pension of between €7,300 to €83,000.

They are also able to tap into a €30m “special needs” fund for crucial investments such as dental operations, specially commissioned furniture or electric wheelchairs, controlled by the government-controlled Contergan Foundation.

By Martin Banks