This year marks the 60th anniversary since the very first baby was born with severe limb deformities as a result of the Thalidomide drug.
It took over half a century for the victims of the drug to receive an apology from those who prescribed it to pregnant mothers. Here we look at how it made it to market, and why it had such a devastating impact on thousands of families across Britain.
Thalidomide was used in the late 1950s and 60s to help women ease the burden of morning sickness – an ailment which affects between 80-90% of pregnant women, and is now called nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It usually begins at around four weeks of gestation and subsides at around 13 weeks. Symptoms range from mild to severe and it some cases can incapacitate an expectant mother.
Thalidomide was first licenced in the UK in 1958 but it was not until 1961 when an Australian doctor named William McBride noticed an increase in babies presenting birth defects. This led to the drug being withdrawn in 1961. However, the damage was already done.
Following decades of campaigning for the company responsible for producing the drug to be held accountable, families across the world were finally compensated for the anguish it had caused.
The Thalidomide recall for pregnant women is probably the biggest pharmaceuticals scandal in our history and it is etched in our memory as a lesson that drug manufacturers should never forget.
While the physical impact the drug had on thousands of families will be with them for life, and there was nothing that the manufacturer could do to counter that, what manufacturers could have done was ease the emotional trauma victims had endure. Initially failing to do so made their case indefensible.
In hindsight, if the company responsible publicly accepted its responsibility and apologised when the life-altering side-effects first became apparent, perhaps its reputation would have weathered the storm far better than it did.
Sometimes the cost of admitting you are wrong is far less than trying to save face when everyone knows the truth.
Being accountable is fundamental to keeping a reputation intact. Let us hope that history never repeats itself.
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