Thalidomide survivors paid more than $17m

·2-min read

More than $17 million has been paid to 95 Australian thalidomide survivors, with a national apology from the federal government in the works.

The morning sickness drug caused birth defects in thousands of babies worldwide.

It was linked to birth defects in 1961, but governments did not take swift action to ban it from being imported or sold.

Unlike other countries, no efforts were made to recall and destroy the product that was in doctor clinics or pharmacies.

Health department senior official Tania Rishniw has confirmed the government was working with survivor groups to decide on a date for a national apology amid the pandemic.

They are hoping to settle on a date when as many survivors can participate as possible.

The department's Tiali Goodchild said 95 survivors had been given financial support, with payments totalling $17.42 million.

More support would be available online for survivors from next Monday and they had also been sent information packs, Ms Goodchild said.

Australia has 135 thalidomide survivors and the government has the details of 120 in order to provide support payments, which was a federal budget measure from last year.

The scheme provides a one-off payment between $75,000 and $500,000, followed by ongoing annual payments between $5000 and $60,000.

They are all tax exempt and scaled by level of disability.

Prominent thalidomide survivor Lisa McManus said while she was grateful funds were being made available, it was not enough to make up for the "greatest medical disaster in history".

"'I'm extremely disappointed," she told AAP at the time.

The budget measure was prompted by a Senate inquiry which delivered its findings in 2019.

It found about 20 per cent of Australia's thalidomide survivors may not have been affected if the government acted more quickly.

The inquiry heard evidence of thalidomide leaving some people with malformed limbs, progressively worsening health outcomes and severe pain.