Canadian thalidomide survivors are still waiting for details on a support package intended to compensate survivors and assist with their medical needs.
"We began our campaign twelve months ago with ninety-seven survivors. Today, ninety-four remain," said Mercédes Benegbi, thalidomide survivor and executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada (TVAC), in a press release yesterday.
On 6 March 2015, the Canadian government announced it would provide $180 million (CAD) in compensation to thalidomide survivors.
Shortly after the compensation package, which was unanimously approved in parliament in December 2014, was announced, survivors expressed disappointment that the initial lump sum payment was only half the amount requested. At the time, survivors also petitioned the government to clarify how the funds would be accessed, taxed and managed.
Thalidomide was originally marketed in dozens of countries as a morning sickness drug by Chemie Grünenthal in the late 1950s and early 1960s until its use was linked to thousands of deaths and birth defects.
Approximately half of the surviving infants who were exposed to thalidomide in the womb suffer from malformed limbs. The drug also caused a number of other health problems, including heart defects, blindness and deafness.
Thalidomide remained on the market in Canada into 1962—several months after being banned by German and UK regulators. Canadian thalidomide survivors were not part of any large-scale settlement, and only received compensation once before, in 1991, though the funds were quickly depleted.
Left in the Dark
Now, nearly two months after the compensation package was announced, thalidomide survivors are still waiting for details from the government.
On 27 April 2015, representatives of the thalidomide survivors met with Health Canada, hoping to get more information about the much-needed assistance package. While survivors already received the initial $125,000 (CAD) lump sum, no specifics have been given on the disability plan or annual payments from the remaining $168 million (CAD) of the compensation package.
Benegbi, who heads the group representing the survivors, says they are concerned over the lack of transparency and fear that funding for the compensation package may be cut. According to Benegbi, the compensation package "was not even included in the government's budget announced last week."
The issue was also brought up in Parliament the following day. Below are excerpts from the session:
"The government's behavior is simply inexcusable. Five months after the house voted unanimously to provide thalidomide survivors with full support, the conservatives have offered them nothing but half-measures and broken promises. Survivors need financial certainty now—they deserve to know now that their needs will be met—but the government is flatly refusing to answer their questions." – Murray Rankin, Member of Parliament, Victoria, BC
"Health Canada is working out the particular issues around dealing with the third party administrator and working out details of the yearly compensation.” – Rona Ambrose, minister of health
"A lot of talk, but no action." – Fit Donnelly, Member of Parliament, New Westminster—Coquitlam & Port Moody
Whatever the cause, it is clear that the remaining survivors, now in their 50s, deserve answers in their long quest for compensation.
TVAC Press Release, The Globe and Mail, Video