Monday, 23 September 2013

Grünenthal apologised last year - but the company still needs to do more for Thalidomide victims

A few months ago I wrote about Grünenthal, the company behind the Thalidomide scandal. I made the point that albeit that Grünenthal had apologised - belatedly - to victims of Thalidomide, campaigning needed to continue. Sufferers from the disastrous manufacture of the drug, which was sold from 1957 to 1962, still need care and attention, not least because the health costs of living with a Thalidomide disability are roughly twice the amount of payments currently being received.

It would be wonderful to report that now, things are different. I have no problem with good news stories and would love to be writing that Thalidomide victims are now being comprehensively looked after and provided for properly. Sadly, the truth is otherwise. Huge problems persist for the 6,000 sufferers from Thalidomide who are still alive.

For these people, the Thalidomide disaster is still unfolding in their daily lives. This is because as well as the disabilities with which they were born, Thalidomide victims' bodies deteriorate at roughly twice the pace of those of able-bodied people from the age of 50. They have to cope with debilitating neurological problems, tingling, numbness and pain in the affected limbs. They are forced to live in a body which is some 25 years older than its actual age.

Worse, Thalidomide sufferers have had to fight for compensation every step of the way, with Grünenthal protected by legislation passed by the German government in 1971, which means that those afflicted cannot sue Grünenthal directly. Instead, they have to rely on a negotiated - and inadequate - compensation pot.
Help Thalidomide Survivors

For this reason, the excellent Show Your Hand campaign group has organised a peaceful protest outside the German Embassy in London on Wednesday, 2 October. The demonstration will start outside the Embassy at 12.30pm and continue until 2.30pm. Those participating have been invited to bring along a 'spare body part', for example a mannequin's foot, hand, leg, arm, head or the like. These will be left at the Embassy steps with a stark and visceral message: this is what Grünenthal robbed victims of.

As Show Your Hand's press release puts it: "The idea is that those of us travelling by public transport and clutching a 'body part' labelled 'URGENT DELIVERY FOR GRUNENTHAL' will undoubtedly draw attention to ourselves even more than usual - and to the cause."

This is bound to prove true, and I welcome the initiative and courage of victims to continue to publicise their plight in this way. There is regrettable irony in Grünenthal recently hosting a lecture on drug safety and yet continuing not to engage with the surviving Thalidomide survivors, and hopefully next week's peaceful protest will help not only to expose it but also to force a change in the law so that victims can have proper redress. In the absence of this, last year's apology by Grünenthal rings hollow.

For more information, go to www.showyourhand.org and in particular add a hand - it'll take less than 10 seconds.