Thalidomide: Still with us half a century later | DW Documentary


Thalidomide – known as Contergan in Germany – is still being used as a drug. This, even after the medication caused thousands of birth defects six decades ago.

The German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal marketed thalidomide world-wide starting in 1957. Pregnant women used the sleeping pill, which had been deemed so harmless it was available over the counter in Germany. Yet the drug proved damaging to embryos and caused serious birth defects. Estimates are that the drug caused thousands of deformities and an unknown number of stillbirths, until it was taken off the market at the end of 1961 when the links became clear.

Filmmaker John Zaritsky has been following thalidomide victims for more than 25 years. He speaks to parents, who tell of the birth of their children and their search for a cause for what had happened. The thalidomide babies have become adults in the meantime. Their stories tell of a double blow – dealing both with their birth defects and how society copes with them. And the nightmare is far from over. Thalidomide, the effective ingredient, is used today to treat leprosy, cancer and AIDS. Zaritsky shows that above all in Brazil, a lack of information about the drug continues to result in birth defects.

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