Forgotten victims battle for justice; Tragic Thalidomide victims havefinally received a pounds 20 millionpay off and a belatedapologyfromthe Government.But many otherfamilies whoclaim theirlives have beenruined byanother drug onceused inpregnancy testing arestill waiting in hope plight will one daythat their be recognised by the ALISON DAYANI reports.
KARL Murphy was born with limb deformities 37 years ago that have nothing to do with Thalidomide.
He had no toes on his left foot, fingers missing on both hands, a harelip and no bones in the roof of his mouth.
He blames a tablet taken by his mother, Pamela, which was given to 'healthy young women' in the 1960s and 70s before a simple urine test became the norm.
The tablet, he said, was the hormone drug Primidos.
But, unlike the high-profile Thalidomide victims, people like Karl, now a leading member of the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, fear they are in danger of being forgotten.
Now, a campaign to highlight the alleged devastation caused by the drug has been relaunched.
German pharmaceutical firm Bayer Schering denies Primidos has any link to deformities in babies.
But Karl claims various deformities were reported in babies from women who took Primidos. Of the alleged victims, 28 per cent of babies had bone and limb defects, 23 per cent suffered heart deformities, 23 per cent had brain damage and 10 per cent diagnosed with spina bifida.
A warning went out to doctors to stop using Primidos in 1975, but it later emerged that it was still being given to women until 1978, when it was taken off the market.
"The West Midlands was heavily hit like many other areas in the country and victims are still fighting for the justice they deserve," claimed Mr Murphy.
"A hormone called Norethisterone, a man-made form of Progesterone, is used today in the pill with 1mg in each tablet, but Primidos had 10mg of it in each tablet along with other hormones and women took two tablets on consecutive days. Campaigners have raised questions about the safety of that.
"We are planning to team up with the Thalidomide Trust to try and have a greater impact because victims need people to know the story of the Primidos saga.
"I have heard from many women who had unhealthy babies and never knew why. It wasn't until they heard about our campaign and went to their GP to check their medical records that they found out the pregnancy test they were given was Primidos."
One of those mothers was Helen Elkes, of South Avenue, Stourbridge, whose daughter Rebecca was born severely physically and mentally handicapped in 1970. "I was a 23-year-old mature student when I became pregnant and was between my home with my husband in Stourbridge and north Wales where my parents were and I was studying." recalled Mrs Elkes, now a 64-year-old retired teacher from Ham Dingle Primary School, in Stourbridge.
"I thought I was pregnant and I remember my dad saying if I saw the GP and had the baby in Wales, if it was a boy, he would be able to play rugby for the Welsh team.
"So, I went to the doctors and he gave me some tablets to take as a pregnancy test. He said, if I had a period, I wasn't pregnant but if I didn't, I was. I had such a smooth pregnancy, but when Rebecca was still a baby we realised she had problems and wasn't developing properly.
"It was my first child and I always wondered if I had done something wrong and what caused it, especially as I had another baby girl, Alexandra, four years later who was perfectly healthy.
"It was years later when I came across the Primidos campaign and it made me wonder, so I asked my GP in Stourbridge to check my medical records and she said I had been given Primidos. I burst into tears when I found out."
Rebecca, who is now 39, needs full time care and lives in a residential care home in Redditch.
"The irony is that I wouldn't even take an aspirin once I found out I was pregnant in order to protect the baby," added Mrs Elkes.
Campaigners claim Primidos has a remarkable likeness to Thalidomide, which was prescribed from 1958 to pregnant women to relieve symptoms of morning sickness, but taken off the market in 1961 when it was linked to 2,000 birth defects.
A long-awaited apology for Thalidomide victims was made in Parliament on Thursday and a pounds 20 million grant from the Department of Health awarded to meet the health needs of the 466 survivors in the UK.
The battle by the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests has not yet been as high profile or successful.
The group was launched in 1978 and managed to get Primidos removed from the market.
But preparation for an expensive trial against pharmaceutical company Schering Chemicals fell apart in 1982 when The Law Society, financing the case out of public funds, said it could not continue as it felt the weight of argument was in favour of Schering being favourites to win the case.
A Norwegian medical expert closely working with the group also suddenly switched allegiance saying he would give evidence for Schering instead, ahead of the trial.
OUR DRUG 'NOT RESPONSIBLE' STEVE Painter, head of Corporate Communications for pharmaceutical company Bayer Schering, denied that Primodos was responsible for causing any deformities in children.
"UK litigation against Schering ended in 1982 when the claimants' legal team, with the approval of the court, decided to discontinue the litigation on the grounds that there was no realistic possibility of showing that Primodos caused the defects alleged," said Mr Painter. "Bayer has reviewed a large amount of information provided by Mr Murphy and further, Bayer has conducted its own extensive review of the medical and scientific literature published to date since the discontinuation of the UK litigation in July, 1982.
"Neither the materials of these support Mr Murphy's claim that the administration of Primodos to his mother harmed him in utero.
"On the contrary, the current state of knowledge, according to the published medical/scientific literature, is that there is no association between the hormones contained in Primodos and congenital deformities of the type alleged by Mr Murphy.
"More recent publications have re-analysed the methodology and statistical processes employed in certain studies which alleged the existence of an association between Primodos and congenital deformities, and it is generally accepted that the conclusions of such older studies were scientifically flawed.
"We sympathise with Mr Murphy, both in relation to his abnormalities and the related difficulties that he continues to face. However, based on the facts and on the law, we do not accept that Bayer has any case to answer in relation to the marketing of Primodos by Schering, and Bayer maintains that Primodos was not responsible for the congenital abnormalities with which Mr Murphy was born."
Battle: Karl Murphy and his mother Pam. Inset, Karl as a baby. Newborn: Helen and Rebecca Elkes. Smooth pregnancy: Helen Elkes with daughter Rebecca. TE11209ELKE-04