Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

-- Developed initially as a tranquilizer in 1950, thalidomide has ultimately resulted in disquiet and disturbance in the wake of one of the worst drug disasters ever. However, the most agitating fact about thalidomide is that 25 years after a German company paid US $31 million as compensation to German children - deformed by its use - the drug continues to be manufactured and sold in Brazil, Although only one laboratory is licensed to do so, several are illegally making, selling and even exporting it.

Brazilian doctors believe that 55 babies have been born with thalidomide related deformities since the past three years. Organisations fighting to ban its use - like Brazil's Association for Carriers of the Thalidomide Syndrome - believe that these numbers would rise if efforts to educate more people on the potential ill-effects of the drug are not speeded up.

The drug is actually quite a paradox because it may cause horrifying defects in newborns, but at the same time, it performs wonders like inhibiting physical deterioration in leprosy patients. Arid Brazil has one of the world's largest population of lepers, who number 1,60,000. Health officials point out that its rise among lepers is carefully monitored, but campaigners dispute the effectiveness of official measures.

One such slip in the system is illustrated by Vera Lucia Bezerra who took thalidomide to relieve nausea while pregnant. The drug had actually been prescribed for her husband, a leper. As a result, Marcia Danielle, her daughter, was born without hands. Health ministry officials hope that Brazil enters the next century armed with tighter restrictions on thalidomide's circulation.

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