Britain says sorry over drug

2010-01-14 22:10
London - The British government issued a long-awaited apology on Thursday to victims of a half-century-old thalidomide drug scandal, and confirmed a £20m ($32m) package to help them.

A total of 466 survivors of the drug - which caused children to be born with physical deformities after their mothers took thalidomide for morning sickness during pregnancy - are eligible for support.

"I know many thalidomiders have waited a long time for this," health minister Mike O'Brien told the House of Commons, using the term for victims of the drug at the end of the 1950s.

"The government wishes to express its sincere regret and deep sympathy for the injury and suffering endured by all those affected when expectant mothers took the drug thalidomide between 1958 and 1961," he said.

"We acknowledge both the physical hardship and the emotional difficulties that have faced both the children affected and their families as a result of this drug and the challenges that many continue to endure, often on a daily basis."

Wonderful

Thalidomide was banned in Britain in 1961 after its effects - including stunted limbs, brain damage and other problems - were highlighted, notably by media campaigners.

Thalidomide campaigner Guy Tweedy described the government apology as "absolutely wonderful".

"I'm highly delighted and so glad that it actually came, 50 years too late, but never mind. It's an apology not just to thalidomide victims but to the parents and parents who lost their children in the early days," he said.

"Some will not be around to hear the apology from the government," he added.

The funding package was announced in December, but Tweedy said the formal apology "means as much in some ways as the money".

"It's a big day," he added.
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