Sixty years ago, thousands of babies were born with severe deformities because of a drug, Thalidomide. Just the dose of a single tablet taken during pregnancy was enough. This 2021 marks six decades since it was withdrawn from the market, although justice never came for the victims of Thalidomide.
The history of Thalidomide
The company responsible for creating and marketing it worldwide was the pharmaceutical company Grünenthal. It apologized on September 9, 2012, 50 years after causing irreparable damage to thousands of people. In the same act of “apology” a monument was inaugurated in Germany with a gloomy sculpture. A girl with no arms and malformed feet made of bronze.
There are many survivors of that tragedy that could have been avoided. In any case, it does not seem sincere to apologize when at the time financial compensation and support for the victims was denied.
People from different countries were affected
Almost 10 thousand children were born with deformities worldwide because of thalidomide. In Germany alone there were 5,000 of them. The drug was synthesized in 1953 by Wilheim Kuntz who worked at the Chemie Grünenthal laboratories. The new drug had sedative and hypnotic properties. It was a great substitute for barbiturates.
In 1957 it was authorized for commercial sale for the treatment of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. In Germany, England and Canada accepted the drug. It was also exported under other names (more than 80 different names) to 50 countries around the world. In France and the United States they detected that it produced undesirable effects and for that reason they did not authorize it. From 1959 it was marketed in Spain as an active ingredient in other medicines.
A medical alert prevented the problem from continuing
The first documented case was in 1957 with a baby born with deformities. Over the next five years, 3000 births with various malformations were recorded. Among the deformities were found to be amelia, which is the lack of an entire limb; phocomelia, which is the shortening of arms and hands or the absence of fingers. However, the drug remained on the market.
It was an Australian doctor who first alerted the British licensing company Destillers. Simultaneously, a Hamburg doctor began investigating cases of deformities involving thalidomide.
In 1961 this German doctor reported his suspicions to the pharmaceutical company Grünenthal. The company not only refused to investigate, but threatened the ministry to ban the sale with a lawsuit. On 29 November 1961 thalidomide was banned because the newspaper Welt am Sonntag published the suspicions.
Although it continued to be marketed in Spain until January 1963. The exact number of victims is not known exactly, although it is believed that about 10,000 babies were affected. The biggest problem is that there are no records documenting these births or the high mortality rate. In Spain, it is assumed that there were between 1,500 and 3,000 births with deformities. Sixty years after the ban, nothing has changed for the victims of thalidomide.