A main Nigerian opposition party called Wednesday on US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to admit it carried out unethical drug trials in the northern state of Kano and pay the victims compensation. "The Action Congress has asked... Pfizer to accept that it carried out unethical clinical trials of the Meningitis drug Trovan on innocent children in Kano in 1996 and pay adequate compensation to all the victims," party spokesman Lai Mohammed said in a statement.
"Instead of Pfizer continuing to grandstand and argue that it did no wrong, the company should be honest enough to admit its mistakes, pay adequate compensation to the victims and put a sort of closure to the issue," it said. In April 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pfizer volunteered to help in Kano following an outbreak of measles, cholera and meningitis that led to the deaths of more than 3,000 people.
The allegations are that Pfizer administered a test antibiotic called Trovan without authorisation or parental consent among children at a field hospital in the heart of the epidemic. Eleven of the children died while many more -- reportedly 181 -- suffered from deafness, paralysis, brain damage and blindness, according to the allegations. Action Congress urged the federal government to ensure that such trials were not repeated anywhere else in the country by putting in place stringent conditions for clinical testing.
"Using children in Nigeria as Guinea-pigs in the testing of an unapproved drug is perhaps a pointer to how Western drug manufacturing companies perceive Nigeria in particular and Africa in general as one huge laboratory for anything-goes drug trials," the party said. It criticised the Kano state government for its shoddy handling of the matter and wondered why it took the state and federal governments 11 years to sue Pfizer over the outcome of trials carried out in 1996.
The Nigerian government has filed a lawsuit for almost seven billion dollars (5.2 billion euros) in damages from Pfizer over the drug tests. It says the children suffered various degrees of adverse effects ranging from deafness to muteness, paralysis, brain damage, loss of sight, slurred speech and death. Hearings in the case are due to restart on June 26. A similar suit was filed last month by Kano, Nigeria's largest state, which is seeking 2.75 billion dollars from the pharmaceutical giant. Pfizer has denied the charges lodged against it by Kano state.