Nigerian Lawyers and Pfizer Approach Settlement

February 27, 2009 01:53 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Nigerian government has presented drugmaker Pfizer Inc. with its final conditions to end criminal charges related to a 1996 trial of the meningitis drug Trovan.

Government Offers Final Terms

“We’ve given them a final figure below which we’ll not go,” said Aliyu Umar, attorney general of Kano state, the prosecutor in charge of the case, according to Bloomberg.

Umar, who would not reveal the amount Pfizer is requesting, said that if Pfizer rejects the terms, the case will continue on April 4.

Pfizer is facing criminal charges related to a drug trial the company held in the city of Kano that involved the drug Trovan, and tested 200 children during a meningitis epidemic. The Nigerian government is asking for $7 billion for damages, and Kano is suing Pfizer for $2 billion. The company has denied wrongdoing.

A lawyer for the Nigerian government, Babatunde Irukera, said that a deal may be reached in just a few hours, according to the Associated Press on Friday.

Background: Nigeria orders arrest of Pfizer employees

In December 2007, a Nigerian judge issued warrants for the arrest of three people from Pfizer, Inc. who allegedly failed to appear in court.

In 1996, a spinal meningitis epidemic in Nigeria infected more than 100,000 people and killed over 10,000. Pfizer employees used the outbreak to test the antibiotic trovafloxacin, also known as Trovan, which was undergoing clinical trials. Pfizer recruited 200 children with meningitis, and gave half of them Trovan and the other half another medication. About five of the children are believed to have died.

After a 2000 Washington Post series on pharmaceutical testing in the third world, Nigerian officials began to look into the trial. They eventually filed criminal charges.

Nigerian state and federal officials say that Pfizer didn’t have the proper permission, killed children and left others with permanent disabilities. Pfizer says the trial saved lives, and no participants suffered permanent ill effects that were unrelated to spinal meningitis. The parents, the company said, were fully informed and gave their consent.

In May 2007, The Washington Post reported that Pfizer would face criminal charges in Nigeria. Officials accused the company of illegally testing an antibiotic on children with meningitis during a 1996 epidemic. The case has taken more than a decade to come to court because Nigerian officials, according to the Post, weren’t aware of the Trovan study’s effects until the Post published an investigation into pharmaceutical tests in the Third World in 2000.

Opinion & Analysis: Pharmaceutical testing, fictional parallels, motives questioned

In a 2003 column from London’s Daily Telegraph, Roger Bate, a doctor and fellow at the International Policy Network, criticizes activists and the media for their portrayal of the Trovan trials. Bate argues that these attacks on pharmaceutical companies could encourage countries to enact legislation that would lower drug profits, which in turn could hamper the development of new medications.

In a 2001 World Press Review article, Sarah Coleman draws comparisons between the Trovan clinical trial to the John Le Carré novel “The Constant Gardener,” which is about the nefarious activities of a fictional pharmaceutical firm operating in Africa.

Max Gbanite, a Nigerian living in the United States, claims the government is “arm-twisting” Pfizer. The government, he said, can’t account for millions of dollars in international donations that were intended to fight diseases such as malaria. Gbanite questions why it took the government so long, if there was a problem with the trial, to do anything. He also believes Pfizer could have provided better care for those trial participants who were diagnosed with meningitis.

Reference: Meningitis


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