1 Sep 2012

Thalidomide company issues apology

10:06 pm on 1 September 2012

The German manufacturer of a drug that left thousands of children with birth defects has apologised to those affected.

Gruenenthal produced thalidomide in the 1950s and 60s as a treatment for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness.

The company has expressed regret in the past, but chief executive Harald Stock now says Gruenenthal has failed to reach out to mothers who took the drug and their children.

Earlier this year the company Diageo,which bought the firm that originally distributed thalidomide, agreed to compensate New Zealand and Australian victims of the drug.

Forty-five New Zealanders and Australians reached a settlement with Diageo in 2010, but others are still fighting for compensation.

At least 15 New Zealanders have joined a class action against both Diageo and Grunenthal.

New Zealander Barry de Geest was born with no arms and shortened legs as a result of his mother taking thalidomide.

He hopes the apology is a sign there could be financial compensation, which he says is what sufferers really needed.

"An apology on its own doesn't really cut it after 50 years of us having to deal with what we've got to deal with."

The BBC reports that the UK's Thalidomide Trust said any apology should also admit wrongdoing.

Nick Dobrik, a member of the UK trust's national advisory council, said it "should be an unreserved apology, not a conditional apology".

By the time the drug was pulled from the market in 1961, more than 10,000 babies worldwide had been born with a range of disabilities caused by the drug.

This included shortened arms and legs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage.

There are between 5000 and 6000 sufferers still alive.

Gruenenthal settled a lawsuit in Germany in 1972 and has voiced regret over the issue but has not admitted liability.