France's deformed babies cases finally prompts national study

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Emmanuelle Amar, head of the independent body that raised the alarm over geographic clusters in France of babies born with malformations, and which was initially dismissed by health officials, has welcomed the turnaround of the government in deciding to launch a broad scientific review into the reasons behind the incidents.

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The whistleblower who raised the alarm over clusters of babies born with missing upper limbs in France has welcomed the government’s decision to set up a national scientific committee to search for a cause, reports The Guardian.

Emmanuelle Amar said the move, announced by the health ministry, vindicated her work after she had been “dragged through the dirt”, and more importantly recognised the concerns of the families affected.

Amar, director of the independent Remera health register in the Rhône-Alpes region, was told after she went public that the register was having its funding withdrawn and she and her team were losing their jobs. They have now been given a reprieve.

“As soon as they announced they’d be paying for our register after all, we knew our work had been validated,” Amar told The Guardian. “It’s a sign they have recognised the quality and pertinence of our work."

However, she said she was still angry at how she and her team had been treated by the country’s health authorities.

“At the time we raised the alarm we were dragged through the mud, told by the health authorities our concerns were unfounded,” she said. “The only people to support us were the scientists and the media.

“The officials, bureaucrats, just wanted to protect themselves. They tried to kill off the register and suffocate the story. It’s incomprehensible but it’s evidence of a kind of arrogance in our institutions.”

Amar raised the alarm after eight cases were reported of infants born without hands or arms in her area. She accused the health authority of trying to bury what she called a health scandal. A further 11 suspected cases have since come to light in the region.

The French health body Santé Publique France (SPF) prompted criticism two months ago when it announced it was closing its investigation into clusters of babies born with missing upper limbs. Three clusters have been reported in different regions: Brittany, Loire-Atlantique and Ain. SPF said the first two appeared to be above the national average, but dismissed the cases in the Ain, covered by Remera, as probably down to chance.

After pressure to reverse this decision, Jérôme Salomon, director general of health, said there would be a coordinated effort involving health and environment professionals as well as scientists that would “examine all leads”.

The new committee, headed by an independent “high-level” scientist, will examine food and environmental factors such as pesticides as well as animal feed, after reports of calves being born with similar abnormalities, but Salomon added that “no hypothesis is being ruled out”.

Read more of this report from The Guardian.

 

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