US court authorises Nigerian death suit against Pfizer

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Pfizer drugs giant has offered an apology to Nigerian who were adversely affected by a drug study and experimentation in 1996, although they still insist that all clinical evidence points to the fact that the deaths and injuries were the direct result of illnesses and not as a result of the treatment they provided to the patients.

In 1996 during a meningitis epidemic in Kano state, Northern Nigeria, Pfizer tested its oral antibiotics called Trovan on some 200 ill children in a hospital in Kano.

Pfizer is said to have acted unethically as the experimentation was done without the consent of the children’s parents. According to reports 11 children died while some 181 others suffered from deafness, paralysis, blindness and even brain-damages.

Pfizer has denied accusations that claim that their drugs had caused the deaths, saying the children who died were victims of the meningitis outbreak. They also maintain that the tests were carried out with the approval of the Nigerian government and that the children’s parents were fully informed.

However, in May 2007, Nigerian authorities from the state of Kano filed eight charges against the world’s biggest pharmaceutical company including a civil suit claiming US $2 billion in damages and restitution.

Earlier on the Nigerian families who went ahead to pursue justice could not sue the drugs giants because under the Alien Tort Statute, foreigners could not sue in a US court. But the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals in New York has ruled that Nigerian families who filed for damages on behalf of some thrity children can now sue the Pfizer drugs giant in the US over its alleged role in the deaths of the children.

Part of the suit claimed that rather than making the trip to the region where the disease had spread to provide humanitarian assistance, as other charitable organisations were doing, “Pfizer hurried to Kano to exploit the misfortune” of the population there “for its own benefit”.

It must be noted that the drug that was allegedly tested on the Nigerian children was not validated by the United States Food and Drug Administration for use on American children. In the European Union, the use of Trovan has been banned outrightly.

According to the law suit, “The families of the children who [were] used as laboratory guinea pigs were led to believe and in fact understood that the Defendants were providing their children with volunteer relief, clearly focused humanitarian medical intervention and nothing more.”

The affected families have received support from observers as they seek justice. Pfizer authorities who in earlier statements had claimed that “they were proud of how the study was conducted” and that “majority of the children” who were part of the programme “had benefited”, however, remained confident it would prevail in the case.

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