Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Was pill linked to birth defects used in New Zealand? Health officials investigating

New evidence has emerged in the UK which showed women who took the hormone-based pill Primodos had a higher chance of having children with severe deformities. Photo / Twitter
New evidence has emerged in the UK which showed women who took the hormone-based pill Primodos had a higher chance of having children with severe deformities. Photo / Twitter

New Zealand health officials are digging back into their records to check whether a pregnancy test which may have caused birth defects in Britain was ever prescribed here.

New evidence has emerged in the United Kingdom which showed women who took the hormone-based pill Primodos had a higher chance of having children with severe deformities or other serious health problems.

It was used 30 to 40 years ago, and thousands of British children may have been affected.

Medsafe, which is responsible for the regulation of medicines in New Zealand, could not immediately say whether the drug was prescribed in this country.

"Medsafe understands that this product was used in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s before being withdrawn," a Ministry of Health spokeswoman said.

"In terms of the New Zealand context, Medsafe will utilise archival material to ascertain the extent of use in this country, if any."

The spokeswoman said Medsafe had a memorandum of understanding with its British equivalent, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and would receive any relevant information as soon as it became available.

Primodos was first introduced in 1958 in Britain and was on the market for 20 years. It contained strong hormones which would later be used in the morning-after pill.

British media reported that hundreds of families have long claimed that Primodos caused birth defects and they have been battling for years for compensation.

Until now, campaigners were unable to establish a causal link between the drug and their babies' health problems.

But they have been given hope by the discovery of archived documents in Germany which drew a connection between the two.

That has prompted the campaigners to allege a cover-up and compare it to the Thalidomide scandal, in which thousands of mothers gave birth to children without limbs or with other defects after being prescribed the morning sickness drug.

According to the documents, a principal medical officer for the British Government discovered in 1975 that women who took a hormone pregnancy test had a "five-to-one risk of giving birth to a child with malformations".

The medical officer alerted the drug's German manufacturer, Schering - which was bought by Bayer in 2006 - so it could address the problem.

The drug was not removed from the market for another three years.

The archived files showed that the officer destroyed materials which he used to make his findings "to prevent individual claims being based on his material".

The Telegraph reported that Bayer had rejected any suggestion Schering had concealed any information. It also rejects any links between the drug and birth defects.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman declined to comment today, referring questions to the ministry.

- NZ Herald

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