One Nation’s Epidemic, One Firm’s Opportunity

The Guardian reports that amid “the worst-ever African meningitis epidemic”, Pfizer flew in teams of pharmaceutical researchers to trial antibiotics on affected Nigerians. In 1996, the company reportedly commandeered part of the Kano hospital, “dosed 200 children …[and] left, leaving behind some surplus drugs and equipment for the hospital”. Given that they were struggling to keep scores of people alive, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) doctors were reportedly “appalled” by an “opportunistic and inappropriate” exercise. Former MSF president Jean Hervé Bradol reportedly said that the Kano team was “shocked that Pfizer continued the so-called scientific work in the middle of hell”.

As 189 of the children survived, Pfizer reportedly regarded the trial as a success. However, The Guardian reports that the trial also left profound mistrust of pharmaceutical companies, which some people suggest has hampered vaccination rates. Families of the children who did not live have reportedly attempted to sue Pfizer, with little success, though the Kano state government achieved a US$75 million settlement of criminal and civil charges in relation to the drug trial. Conversely, federal lawsuits were reportedly dropped in October 2009, months after Pfizer allegedly “hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop the case”.
The Guardian: As doctors fought to save lives, Pfizer flew in drug trial team (9 December 2010)
The Guardian: WikiLeaks cables: Pfizer ‘used dirty tricks to avoid clinical trial payout’ (9 December 2010)
(Source: The Guardian)