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Thalidomide Babies Today

Thalidomide Babies Today

What is thalidomide?

what is thalidomideThalidomide is a sedative drug that was originally developed in Germany in 1954 by the pharmaceutical company Chemie Grünenthal. It was marketed in the United Kingdom by Distillers (Biochemicals) Ltd under the brand name Distaval from April 1958 until late 1961. Elsewhere it has been known as Asmaval, Distaval Forte, Tensival, Valgis, Valgraine.

What damage to babies does thalidomide cause?

The main impairments caused by thalidomide affect the limbs and are usually bilateral – either both arms or both legs or all four limbs. The most severe impairment is known as phocomelia which is a condition where the long bones of some or all limbs are misshapen and where the hands and feet, which can be either mostly fully-formed, malformed or rudimentary, arise almost on the trunk.

Other impairments cover a wide spectrum of limb disabilities ranging from a substantial shortening of the limbs or entire limblessness to less physically disabling conditions such as fused fingers. Thalidomide also affected the eyes and ears, the cardiovascular system, the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys.

The drug harmed the developing foetus only if taken in the first three months of pregnancy. Studies have shown that the exact timing of the thalidomide intake affected the severity and type of resulting malformations. The UK Ministry of Health Report 112 states that the children could, “suffer reduction deficiencies of the limbs, malformations of the eyes, ears and deafness, defects of the heart and kidneys and malformations of the alimentary system.”

The Death and Afterlife of Thalidomide

The story of thalidomide, told in this week’s Retro Report video, is one of the most shameful in the history of the modern pharmaceutical industry.

In the 1950s, a German company, Chemie Grünenthal, developed thalidomide, which was marketed in Europe as the first safe sleeping pill and was seen as a highly effective treatment for pregnant women with morning sickness.

The drug enjoyed such widespread success that in some European countries it became almost as popular as aspirin.

But thalidomide was far from safe. Although the cause was not realized until later, the first known victim of thalidomide was a girl born with no ears on Christmas Day in 1956 — a daughter of a Grünenthal employee

In time, thousands of children around the world whose mothers took the drug while pregnant were born with severe physical disabilities, including flipper-like arms and legs. The archival footage of these children in the Retro video is both horrifying and heartbreaking, as are the stories of the many families who were devastated and unable to cope.

What were the impairments?

According to the U.K.'s Ministry of Health, children could "suffer reduction deficiencies of the limbs, malformations of the eyes, ears and deafness, defects of the heart and kidneys and malformations of the alimentary system."

Phocomelia is the most severe impairment, the U.K.'s Thalidomide Society says, "a condition where the long bones of some or all limbs are misshapen and where the hands and feet, which can be either mostly fully-formed, malformed or rudimentary, arise almost on the trunk."

The Society lists a wide spectrum of limb disabilities caused by the drug.

"The drug harmed the developing foetus only if taken in the first three months of pregnancy," according to the Society.

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