Statement from Minister Ambrose on Thalidomide

May 22, 2015, 15:23 ET from Health Canada

OTTAWA, May 22, 2015 /CNW/ - More than fifty years ago, Thalidomide was approved by Health Canada and prescribed to treat morning sickness in expectant mothers. Tragically, Thalidomide caused serious and permanent physical and emotional damage to mothers, children and families.

Support has been provided to survivors over the years from sources including payments by the Government of Canada in 1991 and settlements from drug companies.

Even in the absence of a legal obligation to provide support, we have a clear moral obligation to help meet the changing needs of survivors. To that end, in March of this year our Government announced a total of $180 Million to support survivors for the rest of their lives. This included a lump sum, tax-free payment of $125,000; ongoing yearly support payments; and an Extraordinary Medical Assistance Fund.

Today, I spoke to Mercedes Benegbi, Executive Director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada (TVAC), to update her on the assistance being provided by the Government of Canada to support the needs of survivors.

I was pleased to confirm that 92 eligible survivors have received a one-time, tax-free payment of $125,000 to cover their immediate needs. This fulfilled a commitment to deliver this money as quickly as possible to survivors while the elements of the ongoing yearly support package were being established.

For ongoing yearly support, eligible survivors will be receiving tax-free payments every single year for the rest of their lives. Today, I am announcing the tax-free yearly support package has been set at three levels: $100,000, $75,000 and $25,000 per year.

Over 70% of current Thalidomide survivors will receive $75,000 or $100,000 tax-free, every year, for the rest of their lives. The majority of survivors, who received the highest level of payment in the 1990s, are automatically eligible for $75,000 per year and can request a reassessment for the maximum level of support of $100,000 per year for the rest of their lives.

I have asked Health Canada to reach out to individual survivors today to provide the details of this yearly funding program and inform them of what level of support they are to receive. I want to reassure survivors that this new program has been designed so that yearly, tax-free payments will continue for their lifetime without the need to reapply or submit receipts.

In addition to the ongoing funding and lump-sum payments, we recognize that survivors will occasionally have extraordinary medical expenses. For these expenses, we have created an annual Extraordinary Medical Assistance Fund (EMAF) of $500,000. The EMAF is designed to support survivors who need specialized surgery, home or vehicle adaptations. The scope and eligible expenses and the claims process will be determined in consultation with TVAC. Access to this fund will be based on the specific needs of individual survivors.

"New" individuals who believe they are survivors of Thalidomide will have six months to come forward and identify themselves to Health Canada. To qualify as a Thalidomide survivor, "new" individuals will need to satisfy one of the three criteria set out in 1991, which existing survivors have previously met. These criteria are:

1) Verifiable information of the receipt of a settlement from the drug company;
2) Documentary proof (e.g., medical or pharmacy records) of the maternal use of Thalidomide (brand names Kevadon or Talimol) in Canada during the first trimester of pregnancy; or
3) Listing on an existing government registry of Thalidomide victims.

Health Canada is putting in place the structure to deliver on these commitments, including identifying an independent third-party administrator. The administrator will manage the EMAF and conduct the assessments of existing and newly identified survivors so they can begin to receive yearly payments starting in early 2016. Health Canada will continue to seek TVAC's input as we move forward.

To ensure that survivors' needs continue to be met, there will be a mandatory review every five years of the funding levels and the terms and conditions.

In addition, I have written to Provincial and Territorial Health Ministers asking that they maintain the funding they provide for survivors and do not claw back support.

As I have said before, survivors and their loved ones have exhibited great courage in overcoming unique, daily challenges they face through no fault of their own.

Over the past several months I have met and spoken with Ms. Benegbi numerous times and want to personally thank her for her tireless efforts on behalf of TVAC members.

This tragic event from the 1960s serves as a constant reminder to all of us how important drug safety is and how far drug safety has come in this country.

Thank you.


SOURCE Health Canada