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Germany

Support for Thalidomide Victims to Double

Fifty years after thalidomide was launched by the Gruenenthal company, Germany is to double the monthly stipend paid to the people left disabled by the drug, which pregnant women took against morning sickness.

A bottle of thalidomoide pills

In Germany, the drug was marketed as Contergan

Volker Kauder, the leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union in parliament, said that talks with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) had produced agreement to appropriate 15 million euros ($22 million) annually to increase the state-backed stipends.

Family Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the decision, saying it showed the government was facing up to its responsibilites.

"We cannot overvalue the extraordinary achievements of thalidomide victims, who have fought for success in their professional and private lives," she said. "They deserve society's respect."

"I am also confident that the government can cooperate with the Gruenenthal company to develop a plan for further benefits to thalidomide victims," she added. "Talks begun in 2007 on how to improve their situation have been promising."

Extra help needed

A mother with a thalidomide baby

The drug claimed 10,000 victims all over the world

The move came after a public outcry against Germany's limited help for aging thalidomide victims.

Around 10,000 babies around the world were born with disabilities as a result of their mothers taking the drug, marketed in Germany under the brand name Contergan. Just under half of those survived. Others learned to live with disabilities such as extremely shortened or missing limbs, or missing organs.

The over-the-counter remedy was taken off the market four years after its launch and better drug regulation introduced round the globe.

But 50 years on, the victims are now middle-aged. With their parents dying off, they need extra help to relieve sore joints and compensate for a life of poor earnings.

Currently the 2,870 victims in Germany receive a stipend of up to 545 euros monthly, depending on their degree of disability, from a trust fund set up by Gruenenthal and the German government.

The pharmaceuticals company paid 100 million deutsche marks (51.13 million euros) into the compensation fund in 1971 after a criminal trial following thalidomide's withdrawal, but has not provided any additional support for the fund since..

German victims have demanded a tripling of the stipend, saying victims in Britain and elsewhere were compensated better. Spanish victims have only recently begun a legal fight for compensation.

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