Corruption unltd. 2: Pfizer in Nigeria – dead kids, death threats and deadly drugs (1)
In 2000 the Washington Post published a major exposé accusing Pfizer of testing a dangerous new antibiotic called Trovan on children in Nigeria without receiving proper consent from their parents.
The experiment occurred during a 1996 meningitis epidemic in the country. In 2001 Pfizer was sued in U.S. federal court by thirty Nigerian families, who accused the company of using their children as human guinea pigs. The trials led to the deaths of 11 children. Dozens more were left disabled. In 2011, Pfizer paid $700,000 to four families who lost children during the Trovan trials. In addition, the company set up a $35 million fund for those affected by Trovan. Pfizer also agreed to sponsor health projects in Kano, Nigeria. The question that boggled many analysts: How did Pfizer manage to settle so low, after Kano initially filed for $7BILLION damages?
Timeline of the legal case
2006: a panel of Nigerian medical experts concluded that Pfizer had violated international law.
“After more than a decade of silence, the Nigerian government has decided to sue Pfizer, seeking $7bn (£3.5bn) in damages for the families of children who allegedly died or suffered side-effects in the experiment. Kano State government has also filed separate charges against Pfizer.
But Mr Sani says compensation will not be enough. ‘In addition to the compensation, they should be killed like the children they have killed,’ he says.
The Pfizer experiment was cited by many as a reason for the mass rejection of polio vaccinations in many parts of northern Nigeria in recent years.
Some local Islamic preachers said there was a western plot to sterilise Muslim women. After several tests were carried out to proving the vaccine’s safety, the programme has now been resumed.
Whether the families ever receive compensation, it will never be enough to bring back Anas’s lost dreams of becoming a soldier.” – BBC
2009: The Nigerian state of Kano settled with Pfizer for $75 million in July 2009. Details of the federal settlement were never reported.
At the end of January 2009, a New York appeal court ruled Mr Etigwe and Mr Altschuler’s case could be heard in the US. The Connecticut attorney says it could still go ahead. “Our case is firmly embedded in the US … so a Nigerian settlement does not foreclose our case. But this is very good news. I’m glad we remained the constant gardener and could see this come to fruition.”
2011: “Eleven of the children died and many more, it is alleged, later suffered serious side-effects ranging from organ failure to brain damage. But with meningitis, cholera and measles still raging and crowds still queueing at the fence of the camp, the Pfizer team packed up after two weeks and left.
That would probably have been an end to the story if it weren’t for Pfizer employee, Juan Walterspiel”, the Independent writes in 2014.
“About 18 months after the medical trial he wrote a letter to the then chief executive of the company, William Steere, saying that the trial had ‘violated ethical rules’”. Mr Walterspiel was fired a day later for reasons “unrelated” to the letter, insists Pfizer.
2014: Pfizer to pay only $163.50m after deaths of Nigerian children in drug trial experiment!
Out of court settlement in the case inspired ‘The Constant Gardener” movie.
The company claims only five children died after taking Trovan and six died after receiving injections of the certified drug Rocephin. The pharmaceutical giant says it was the meningitis that harmed the children and not their drug trial. But did the parents know that they were offering their children up for an experimental medical trial?
“No,” Nigerian parent Malam Musa Zango said. He claims his son Sumaila, who was then 12 years old, was left deaf and mute after taking part in the trial. But Pfizer has denied this and says consent had been given by the Nigerian state and the families of those treated. It produced a letter of permission from a Kano ethics committee. The letter turned out to have been backdated and the committee set up a year after the original medical trial.
At stake at one point in 2013 was more than $8bn in punitive damages being sought in a string of cases, as well as potential jail terms in Nigeria for several Pfizer staff. “There has been a complex web of cases with proceedings in Connecticut, New York, Lagos, Abuja and Kano,” Mr Etigwe said. “The strategy of big companies when they are dealing with smaller opponents is to stretch the process, to overwhelm us until we are ready to accept whatever they want to offer.”
Trovan never became the blockbuster that Pfizer had hoped for and it is no longer in production. The EU has banned the drug and it has been withdrawn from sale in the US.
It appears that Pfizer has finally ended the public relations nightmare with a settlement. But the Trovan battle may not be over yet.
2015: Nigerian govt withdraws civil lawsuit in preparation for new case against Pfizer. New case never followed.
“Nigerian government lawyers have withdrawn a 7 (b) billion US dollar civil lawsuit against US drugmaker Pfizer in preparation for filing a new case, with new material they believe will strengthen their case. The criminal case, is one of three currently being brought in Nigeria against the company. The government has accused Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, of taking advantage of a 1996 meningitis epidemic to test an experimental drug without authorisation or full understanding of the families involved – allegedly contributing to the deaths of some of the children and making others sick. Pfizer denies wrongdoing. The civil case is in addition to a federal criminal case and separate from civil and criminal cases launched at the state level in the northern state of Kano.
All the cases stem from the same mid-1990s drug study. Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic, Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone – but the dose was lower than recommended, the families’ lawyers alleged. Up to 11 children in the study died, while others suffered physical disabilities and brain damage. Pfizer always insisted its records show none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment.
Barrister Abdulateff Thomas said that he did not accept any of the company’s excuses that the studies were conducted through a deal with the Nigerian government. ‘If there was any deal at all it was made by an individual against the interest of the government, against the interest of a nation,’ he said. ‘Could they do that deal in America? Can they do it in the UK? Or in any of the European countries? No,’ he added. Speaking before the latest development, he added that he did not believe that Pfizer would suffer any consequences as a result of the – now withdrawn – lawsuit. ‘Nothing is going to happen to Pfizer, if anyone tells you otherwise. Pfizer is going to remain strong’, he said.
Authorities in Kano state are blaming the Pfizer controversy for widespread suspicion of government public health policies, particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio. Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer controversy as evidence of a US-led conspiracy. Vaccination programmes restarted in Nigeria in 2004, after an 11-month boycott.”
So we have over a decade of legal battles in which Pfizer saves about $7billion in penalties. As spectacular as it is mysterious. No one has ever revealed an official explanation that satisfies that kind of success, you would expect some solid steel evidence that crushed the cases and the demands from the plaintiffs, but that is unheard of.
The answer might be hidden is some classified U.S. State Department cables made public in 2010 by Wikileaks, which indicated that Pfizer had hired investigators to dig up dirt on Nigeria’s former attorney general as a way to get leverage in one of the remaining cases. Pfizer had to apologize over the revelation in the cables that it had falsely claimed that the group Doctors Without Borders was also dispensing Trovan during the Nigerian meningitis epidemic. And by doing so, validated the cables.
A Pfizer representative in a phone interview with Washington Post declined to discuss specifics of the cable or Liggeri’s alleged comments. In its written statement, Pfizer said it negotiated the confidential settlement with the federal government “in good faith and its conduct in reaching that agreement was proper.” Pfizer said it had agreed to pay the legal fees and expenses incurred by the federal government in the litigation and no payment was made to the federal government of Nigeria itself.
According to the cable, Liggeri also told U.S. officials that the lawsuits were “wholly political in nature,” and that the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders also gave children Trovan. Officials with the organization said that is not the case, and other records suggest that only Pfizer would have had access to Trovan at the time.
Doctors Without Borders published this response in 2011:
“Among the US government diplomatic cables recently published by the Wikileaks website were details of a meeting between an official from the pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, and US Embassy officials in Nigeria in April 2009.
At the time of the meeting, Pfizer was in the midst of a legal battle with Nigerian government officials regarding a medically unethical antibiotic clinical trial in children. The clinical trial took place in Kano State in 1996 during a massive meningitis outbreak.
Pfizer carried out the trial of the oral antibiotic trovafloxacin, branded Trovan, even though there had not been any previous medical evidence that it could be effective against meningitis. The Pfizer researchers conducted the trial in Kano State Hospital, where a Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) team was treating children using a preferred and clinically approved antibiotic regimen for bacterial meningitis.
A US$75 million settlement with the State of Kano was reached July 30, 2009. Other cases are still pending before the US courts and the Nigerian federal government continues to pursue legal claims against Pfizer.
It is against this backdrop that Pfizer falsely accused MSF in the US diplomatic cables of using Trovan. Documented evidence has shown that these accusations are patently false. MSF did not, at any time, administer Trovan to patients. Litigation connected to this case and comprehensive investigative reports on the matter suggest that Pfizer’s attempts to rewrite history are intended to deflect responsibility for the company’s actions.
MSF was not working in the same part of the hospital in Kano State as Pfizer clinical researchers, and MSF staff had no connection to Pfizer. When MSF staff became aware of what Pfizer was doing, they were appalled at the practices of the company’s team. MSF personnel on the ground communicated their concerns to both Pfizer and the local authorities.
‘It was not a time for a drug trial,’ says Jean Hervé Bradol, former president of MSF France, to whom the Kano teams were reporting at the time. ‘They were panicking in the hospital, overrun by critically ill patients. The team were shocked that Pfizer continued the so-called scientific work in the middle of hell.’
Pfizer officials have made no attempt to clear the record as of yet and retract these unsubstantiated claims against MSF. A handful of internet reports have adopted the version of events proffered by the Pfizer official.
An exhaustive Washington Post investigation, drawing on extensive background information and interviews provided by MSF staff, published on December 17, 2000, makes clear the distinction between Pfizer’s activities and the work of MSF during the meningitis outbreak:
‘Behind a gate besieged by suffering crowds stood two very different clinics. A humanitarian charity, Doctors Without Borders, had erected a treatment center solely in an effort to save lives. Researchers for Pfizer Inc., a huge American drug company, had set up a second center. They were using Nigeria’s meningitis epidemic to conduct experiments on children with what Pfizer believed was a promising new antibiotic, a drug not yet approved in the United States.’
The article later triggered the various legal proceeding taken by the victims and Nigerian authorities against Pfizer.
With proven treatments at hand, Pfizer instead chose to carry out tests for an unproven drug on children whose lives hung in the balance. ‘The situation called for using treatment protocols known to be effective rather than carrying out clinical trials on a new antibiotic, with uncertain results,’ said Dr. Bradol.”
BBC reported it too at the time (2010):
“According to a US cable released by WikiLeaks, Pfizer wanted to ‘put pressure’ on Michael Aondoakaa. He was heading a lawsuit against the company over a 1996 drug trial during a meningitis epidemic.
The trial allegedly led to the deaths of 11 children – charges Pfizer denies.
Pfizer reached a $75m settlement last year with Nigeria’s Kano government over the case, which also allegedly left dozens of children disabled.
In a statement released by Pfizer in response to the leaked diplomatic cable published by the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the pharmaceutical company said it ‘negotiated the settlement with the federal government of Nigeria in good faith and its conduct in reaching that agreement was proper’.
The cable quoted conversations said to have taken place between US embassy staff and Pfizer’s head in Nigeria, Enrico Liggeri. It referred to a meeting between Mr Liggeri and US officials on 9 April 2009.
‘According to Liggeri, Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to Federal Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases,’ the cable released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks said. ‘He said Pfizer’s investigators were passing this information to local media.’
Mr Aondoakaa was removed from the position of justice minister in February this year by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan.”
The idea is that no one has ever proven a Wikilieaks cable to be fake, definitely not this one.
Read the second part of the article
May 13, 2020