by Heidi Stevenson
Pfizer is revealed to have blackmailed Nigeria's attorney general to get two lawsuits dropped. The suits were for harm done to children treated as unwitting guinea pigs in an unauthorized trial.
In 1996, during the worst pneumonia and meningitis epidemic Africa has ever known, Pfizer flew in a team to do a drug trial on children. They didn't ask for permission. They didn't tell the children or their parents what they were doing. They just did it. They picked some for one drug and they picked others for another drug. They picked them indiscriminately.
The Pfizer team went to a hospital in Kano, Nigeria, where Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) were working furiously to help people in a chaotic situation. They simply set up their operation to compare their new drug, Trovan, against the most commonly-used one of the time, ceftriaxone. According to The Guardian, Mustapha Maisikeli, who now chairs the Trovan Victims Fund, said that when his children fell ill:
I learned they were sick, and people suggested it could be meningitis. Anyone who sees his child with a fever rushes to the infectious diseases hospital. There was a queue and they selected from there. It was, 'You, follow me'. We were gathered in a camp into two groups: MSF and Pfizer...It just so happened my children fell within Pfizer.
His daughters left the hospital after three days, but they died four months later. He blames Pfizer, because he believes that meningitis usually kills quickly.
Parents and other relatives of children who died have tried to sue Pfizer, but with mixed success. There is one trial ongoing on the US, but two others have failed there. They also sued in Nigeria. Two cases brought in Kano, one criminal and one civil, were settled out of court in October 2009 for $75 million, $35 million for the families and $40 million for attorneys and the government. Two other suits brought by the Nigerian government were mysteriously dropped at about the same time. No explanation was ever given.
One of the WikiLeaks cables has resolved the mystery. Pfizer didn't want to pay. So, they investigated the Attorney General, Michael Aondoakaa, who had the power to drop the cases. They found a great deal of corruption, and went to a local paper with a small part of it. The paper published it. Pfizer's Country Manager, Enrico Liggeri, warned Aondoakaa that there'd be more and worse revelations. The lawsuits were dropped.
The WikiLeaks-released cable then goes on to state that Liggeri insisted that the lawsuits were political in nature because the "NGO Doctors Without Borders administered Trovan to other children during the 1996 meningitis epidemic and the Nigerian government has taken no action." The embassy cable then goes on to state, "He underscored that the suit has had a 'chilling effect' on international pharmaceutical companies because companies are no longer willing to conduct clinical testing in Nigeria. Liggeri opined that when another outbreak occurs no company will come to Nigeria's aid."
It's an interesting claim, since Pfizer never provided Trovan to Nigeria after the illegal and immoral trial they conducted in 1996. The company jumped in when there was an ongoing disaster, used children for their own purposes, and left as soon as they had what they wanted.
In any case, the people of Nigeria are probably better off without Pfizer's dubious assistance.
The drug they tested, Trovan, was later found to be highly toxic to the liver, causing at least six deaths. It seems that Mustapha Maisikeli's belief that his daughters died because of the Pfizer-administered drug may be valid.
- 09ABUJA671: NIGERIA: PFIZER REACHES PRELIMINARY AGREEMENT FORhttp://220.127.116.11/cable/2009/04/09ABUJA671.html) (Alternatively, go to the original on WikiLeaks' site:
- As doctors fought to save lives, Pfizer flew in drug trial team
- WikiLeaks cables: Pfizer 'used dirty tricks to avoid clinical trial payout'