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Tuesday, 19 February 1980
Page: 11

Mr BURNS (ISAACS, VICTORIA) -Is the Minister for Health aware that the world famous obstetrician, Dr William McBride, who first warned the world about the drug thalidomide and its tragic effects, has disclosed that at least 80 children in Australia have been born with deformities following the mothers' use of the drug debendox during pregnancy? If the Minister is aware of this fact, will he tell the House what action, if any, has been taken by his Department?

Mr MacKELLAR (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) - I am aware that Dr McBride has made claims regarding a number of children who have been born in Australia with deformities following the mothers' use of the drug debendox during pregnancy. I am not aware that the figure is as high as 80 as the honourable member has stated. The only reports which my Department has received since 1974 are contained in a letter received from Dr McBride which was dated 7 November last year. In that letter Dr McBride refers to a survey of children with reduction deformities in which 1 9 mothers claimed to have taken the drug debendox during the pregnancy. Reference was made also in that letter to one further case reported to Dr McBride by a mother. Dr McBride was immediately asked to provide full detail of the survey to which he referred and this was followed up by a further letter to Dr McBride dated 8 January this year. Unfortunately, to date we have not received a response to this request.

As an alternative, a further letter has recently been sent to Dr McBride inviting him to attend the next meeting of the Congenital Abnormalities Sub-committee of the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee. That meeting will be held on 14 March next. We hope that Dr McBride will attend that meeting and present details of the survey to which he has referred. The Congenital Abnormalities Sub-committee has continued to review the published literature on this subject and, so far as it can evaluate, the frequency of birth defects in the children of mothers who have taken debendox during pregnancy has not been demonstrated to exceed that in mothers who did not take debendox. The Australian Drug Evaluation Committee is of the view that it is not possible to state that any drug is absolutely free of risk to a patient or to an unborn child. On the other hand, of course, severe or prolonged vomiting in pregnancy carries its own risk to the mother and to the unborn child. In appropriate cases debendox has proved to be a very useful drug. Therefore, the advice that applies to other drugs during pregnancy applies to debendox. No drug should be taken during pregnancy unless needed and then only on the advice and on the prescription of the attending doctor.

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