Nigeria charges Pfizer with deadly drug tests
Published Jun 7, 2007 1:28 AM
Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, is being sued for $2
billion by authorities in Kano, the third-largest city in Nigeria. Criminal
charges are being prepared as well. The suit was brought because of drug
experiments that Pfizer conducted a decade ago. The experimentation led to
disabilities and the deaths of at least 11 children, according to Nigerian
Around 200 Nigerian children with bacterial meningitis were in the study.
Besides the 11 who died, others suffered various injuries and long-term
disabilities from the treatment administered by Pfizer, ranging from blindness,
seizures, deafness, muteness and brain damage to paralysis.
The experimentation involved the use of an untested and unapproved drug called
Trovan Floxacin during an outbreak of meningitis and other diseases in Kano in
April 1996. Pfizer and the World Health Organization “volunteered”
to help with the outbreak. Meningitis killed 15,000 people in Africa that
The lawsuit says that: “In the midst of the epidemic, Pfizer devised a
scheme under which it misrepresented and failed to disclose its primary motive
in seeking to participate in giving care to the victims of the
It further states: “Pfizer never disclosed that it intended to experiment
on vulnerable victims or conduct any clinical trials without the necessary
approvals from regulatory agencies in Nigeria but pretended it came to render
Pfizer claims it had an authorization from the government of Nigeria to
administer the tests, but Abdulhamid Isa Dutse, the physician who presided over
the tests of the antibiotic Trovan, said the letter was written as long as a
year after the completion of the tests. (Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2001)
Though the letter stating that the hospital’s ethics committee had
reviewed and accepted the test was written on stationery belonging to Aminu
Kano Teaching Hospital and was dated March 28, 1996, six days before the
beginning of the experiment, there was no ethics committee at that hospital at
The Washington Post article says: “Sadiq S. Wali, the hospital’s
medical director, recently told The Washington Post the document was ‘a
lie.’ He said the hospital had no ethics committee at the time
Pfizer’s test was underway and did not organize it—or create the
letterhead stationery bearing his name that was used in the approval
letter—until months later.”
While Pfizer continues to claim it had authorization to administer the test,
its proof of authorization is now known to be fraudulent.
This deadly fraud is said to have been the basis for the novel and film
“The Constant Gardener” by John Le Carré.
It should come as no surprise that Pfizer would commit such a crime in the
Third World. Pharmaceutical companies have stepped up their experimentation in
A USA Today article in 2005 said that many companies were looking to increase
trials outside of the U.S. and Western Europe because of the lower costs in
doing so and less strict rules regarding experimentation.
Today, 50 percent of GlaxoSmithKline’s tests, 70 percent of Wyeth
Pharmaceuticals’ and more than 50 percent of Merck’s trials are
done outside the U.S. and Western Europe.
At the same time, experimentation in the imperialist countries is mostly
conducted on oppressed nationalities and the poor.
Workers World reported on two cases: In New York, Administration for
Children’s Services (ACS) enrolled HIV-positive children in group homes
in tests of new drugs. (WW, May 12, 2005) The federal Institute of Medicine in
2006 issued a report calling for relaxing regulations that limited biomedical
research on prisoners. (WW, Aug. 31, 2006)
Paul Wright of Prison Legal News said of the proposal for increased testing on
inmates and relaxing the regulations, “It strikes me as pretty ridiculous
to start talking about prisoners getting access to cutting-edge research and
medications when they can’t even get penicillin and high-blood-pressure
The experimentations by pharmaceutical companies, in many cases in
underdeveloped nations and on the poor and oppressed in imperialist nations,
constitute a war, waged by the capitalist mode of production. At the heart of
it is pure racism in the service of profit.
The lives of people of color are valued less. Once the effects of new drugs are
demonstrated through testing on the poor at lowered cost, the companies can
sell these drugs to people in the Western world who can afford them. Other than
being experimented on, the poor and oppressed around the world will not have
access to the drugs if they prove effective.
The revelation of the tests conducted in Kano and the suffering of the children
lied to and taken advantage of should not be taken lightly and the history of
tests in Africa has to be further investigated.
It was the experimental use of a polio vaccine in Africa that is pointed to as
most likely to have transferred SIV, the simian form of HIV, from apes to
humans, unleashing the HIV virus in Africa, which now has 25 million of the
world’s 39 million HIV cases.
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