A hand holding a business card of the Grünenthal Foundation

Our responsibility:
How Grünenthal supports people affected by Thalidomide

People affected by the Thalidomide tragedy, who were known as “Thalidomide babies” in the 1960s, are now in their late fifties or early sixties. Because of their injuries, they have lived with a wide range of disabilities, which in some cases are extremely severe. Many are facing increasing health problems and mobility issues as they grow older.

The Thalidomide tragedy will always remain a part of our company’s history. We will never forget what happened, and we deeply regret the severe consequences for those affected and their families. We take our responsibility to help these people very seriously. Our Grünenthal Foundation supports affected individuals and families by funding projects that contribute to a more independent life. Through the foundation, we aim to provide help where it is most needed and remain in close contact with people whose lives have been impacted by Thalidomide.

In November 2021, Dr. Michael Wirtz, shareholder of Grünenthal, apologised to those affected and their families on behalf of his family. From many conversations, we appreciate how important this personal statement was to this community. We therefore welcome this gesture as a further step on the chosen path of dialogue between affected people, Grünenthal and the shareholder family. The effects of the tragedy can still be felt today. We are committed to keeping the memory alive by continuously expanding the information we make available.

On this page, we provide an overview of how Grünenthal supports Thalidomide-affected people today and what support systems are available to them.

An international support system for Thalidomide-affected people

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, products containing Thalidomide were sold by Grünenthal and our distribution partners and licensees at the time under names including Contergan, Distaval, Softenon, and other brands.

Today, there are various forms of support for people who were harmed by these Thalidomide-containing products. This support differs from country to country.

  • In countries where Grünenthal or our distribution partners at the time sold Thalidomide-containing products, financial support is available from the German Contergan Foundation. This applies in Germany and also in 37 additional countries such as Belgium, Austria, Chile, Brazil, and partly Spain.
  • In countries where other companies marketed Thalidomide-containing products independently and without permission from Grünenthal, Thalidomide-affected people are generally supported by their respective country - for example, in Italy and in Spain
  • In countries where licensees marketed their own Thalidomide-containing products, these companies provide financial support, sometimes together with the local government. Such arrangements exist, for instance, in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden.
  • In countries where other companies marketed Thalidomide-containing products independently, Thalidomide-affected people are generally supported by their respective countries - for example, in Italy and in Spain. In the United States, tests by Grünenthal’s licensees were still ongoing and FDA approval was pending, when the product was withdrawn from the market in late November 1961.
  • The benefits of the “Grünenthal Foundation for the Support of Thalidomide-affected People” are available to all affected people who are recognised by the Contergan Foundation or according to comparable criteria, for example through the “Thalidomide Trust” in the United Kingdom. To date, affected people from 16 countries have accessed the benefits offered by the Grünenthal Foundation.
Infographic: Sources of financial aid for Thalidomide-affected people

Sources of financial aid for Thalidomide-affected people

The Grünenthal Foundation for the Support of Thalidomide-affected People

Grünenthal Foundation team: The Grünenthal Foundation team focusses on the needs of Thalidomide affected-people

Grünenthal Foundation team: The Grünenthal Foundation team focusses on the needs of Thalidomide-affected people.

Many affected people face enormous challenges as they try to shape their lives and daily routines in a self-determined and independent way. The Grünenthal Foundation works to improve the living situation of people affected by thalidomide sustainably and quickly.

The Grünenthal Foundation was established in 2012 and integrated the “Hardship Initiative” founded by Grünenthal in 2011. Since its inception, the foundation has provided support in more than 2,500 cases. This support is frequently backed by state programmes and was constantly expanded over the past few years, through ongoing dialogue with Thalidomide-affected people.

Through many in-depth conversations with people affected by Thalidomide, the Grünenthal Foundation’s employees have learned the importance of mobility and an independent life at home. Based on this understanding, our support has focused on financing measures in these areas:

  • The kitchen is the heart of the home for many people. Through personalised adaptations the kitchen can be made more accessible for disabled people in the long term. The Grünenthal Foundation helps with the corresponding modifications.
  • Another important aspect of independent living is the self-reliant accomplishment of personal hygiene. For this reason, the Grünenthal Foundation also finances modifications of bathrooms. These efforts focus on walk-in showers, non-slip floor tiles, height-adjustable wash basins, full-body dryers, and foot-operated fixtures.
  • Another central area of our support focuses on mobility outside of the home. Most Thalidomide-affected people find it difficult to use local public transportation. Having their own car is key to preserving social contact and participating in social life. For this reason, we also support the financing of passenger car modifications or the purchase of adapted bicycles.

Learn more about the Grünenthal foundation on its website.

The German “Contergan Foundation for Disabled People”

The Contergan Foundation, named after the medicine containing Thalidomide in Germany, was established in 1972. Since then, the Contergan Foundation has provided Thalidomide-affected people with financial assistance such as monthly pensions and a one-time payment from the Fund for Special Needs, which is made available by the federal government.

As a federal foundation under public law, the Contergan Foundation is overseen by the federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. It acts completely independently from Grünenthal.

To establish the Contergan Foundation, Grünenthal and the federal government each contributed 50 million euros (100 million German marks at that time). The payment was made in the context of an agreement between the company and representatives of those affected. In 2009, Grünenthal voluntarily paid an additional 50 million euros into the Contergan Foundation.

Today, Thalidomide-affected people can still submit an application for recognition. The Medical Committee of the Contergan Foundation then checks whether all criteria required for benefits have been met.

The ongoing government support and the Grünenthal contribution form a reliable support system for people affected by Thalidomide in Germany and in an additional 37 countries. In countries where Grünenthal issued licenses to market Thalidomide, there are comparable support foundations set up by these licensees and/or the local governments.

For more information, go to the website of the Contergan Foundation.

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