Politics

Thalidomide survivors seek more financial support from Ottawa

Health Minister Rona Ambrose says the federal government is committed to working with thalidomide survivors seeking more financial support as they age, but didn't offer specifics as to what type of support might be made available.

Rona Ambrose says Monday's meeting was 'a step forward'

Health Minister Rona Ambrose met with thalidomide victims this afternoon in Ottawa. They are looking for the government to provide more financial support. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Health Minister Rona Ambrose says the federal government is committed to working with thalidomide survivors seeking more financial support as they age, but didn't offer specifics as to what type of support might be made available.

After meeting with representatives from the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, Ambrose said in a written statement the government was eager to work with thalidomide survivors to ensure they're properly supported.​

While thalidomide victims received some compensation from the government in 1991, Ambrose conceded that 20 years on "it is clear their health needs have changed and they require ongoing support."

"Today's meeting was a step forward in building a partnership to find a solution. Our government is committed to working with the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada to determine how we can best support their health needs going forward," she said in a written statement after Monday's meeting.

Mercedes Benegbi, a thalidomide survivor and executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, said her group was looking for a solution that would include some immediate financial support as well as a long-term commitment.

"We need to receive a lump sum amount first, approximately $250,000, and this is just to answer our urgent needs right now —​ and an agreement on long term financial support, approximately between $75,000 and $150,000 a year depending on the level of disability."

"I trust very much that our health minister will listen to me and I'm going over there with a spirit of partnership and we will find a solution," Benegbi told CBC News prior to her meeting with Ambrose.

NDP motion receives unanimous support

All the victims were born to mothers who took the government-approved drug in the 1950s and 1960s without knowing of its disastrous side-effects.
Marie Olney says thalidomide victims such as herself should receive yearly compensation from the federal government, which permitted the birth defect-causing drug to be prescribed in the 1960s. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Though a lump sum payment was given by the government to victims in the 1990s as compensation, aging survivors say more is needed to cope with their day-to-day needs.

Benegbi said while thalidomide survivors have done their best to be autonomous, there's no doubt their health is deteriorating. 

Daily activities that most Canadians take for granted — taking a shower, getting dressed, preparing meals — are becoming increasingly difficult for aging survivors, she said.

Ambrose has called the thalidomide disaster an incredibly tragic event and has said she wants to work with survivors.

An NDP Opposition motion to help thalidomide survivors received unanimous support in the House of Commons on Monday.

With files from The Canadian Press

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