Thursday 5 February 2009

Nigeria: Pfizer, we are NOT lab rats

In favour of redress
Recently, a higher court in the United States of America ruled in favour of Nigerians [1] having their case tried in the States rather than in Nigeria where an alleged offence had been committed.
This case has been to the courts so many times and yet for all the legal wrangling, justice is nowhere in sight.
The background to the story is already well known – in 1996, there was an outbreak [2] of measles, cholera and meningitis in Northern Nigeria; Pfizer the pharmaceutical conglomerate magnanimously offered to help the government by providing drugs to deal with the problem.
Somewhere along the line, it appears, as they say, they came to some agreement with the government to conduct a drug trial [3] with an experimental treatment which had not been allowed elsewhere and this apparently lead to blindness, deaths, deformities and other kinds of problems for the children who might have been administered the drugs.
Maybe so, for Pfizer
Pfizer contends that its drugs had nothing to do with the problems and that it was a case of an inadvertent coincidence that their drugs were administered just when the disease had already taken its toll – that is plausible, but it is subject to debate, sub judice and somehow this case still has merit for the plaintiffs and before the judges which is why it is still in the courts.
I would not enter into the legal arguments that surround this case but there is much to be said for the situation as it stood then.
Without moral rectitude
First of all, Pfizer erred in their moral obligations by taking advantage of a critical health situation to promote an untested drug with the hope that it would produce results that would have gone on to earn the company clout, competitive advantage, kudos and untold profits but also could have been quietly shut down since it was in an African backwater.
Even though Pfizer contends that the government was informed of the drug trial and they might have assumed the people were well intimated of the trial and the consequences, they failed in their ethical responsibility to engage the parents to the extent that they would have understood if it were better to take well known treatments for meningitis rather than give up their children for experimental license.
In a country where the health situation is dire, it goes without saying that most parents would not have the objectivity to assess the circumstances of a drug trial apart from being given the assurance that the treatment their child would receive would cure the child.
Exploitative predators
Whilst it should have been incumbent on the government to duly inform the people, Pfizer should not have taken the opportunity to exploit the vulnerability of concerned, troubled and vulnerable parents, no matter what hopeful benefit might have accrued from testing the drug.
If indeed their drug could not have caused the deaths and deformities there was no study to prove or that allowed for them to conclusively arrive at that conclusion since the United States had already banned the use of that drug in any studies back at the home country.
Shopping for workshops for evil
It would appear Pfizer was shopping around for a place where they could conduct their deadly experiment and extricate themselves from culpability if it went wrong – which it did.
That the Nigerian government could have complicit in this malevolence is unconscionable but the further consequence of this atrocious exercise was that when polio [4] broke out in Northern Nigeria the parents refused to allow legitimate polio drugs to be administered to their children for the fear of being involved in new experiments offering false cures.
It meant for a while, polio which should have been wiped out of Sub-Saharan Africa began to spread bringing opprobrium on concerned helpless people who had lost confidence in both their government and seemingly helpful agencies of goodwill that could have helped them.
The West poured scorn on the Muslim Nigerians in the North for their stance when in fact it was in reaction to a despicably conducted exercise masterminded by a supposedly responsible global drug company, a few years before – they were once bitten and now twice shy.
Between arguments and responsibility
Pfizer might well have good solid and unassailable legal arguments but those are beside the point, they failed in their moral, ethical and corporate social responsibility to use their better position and expertise to help people who really thought they had salvation for their dire situation.
In the end, the little man in Nigeria might not have voice, means or angels in Nigeria to fight for their rights, fairness and justice, but by God they do have rights in this world to sue for justice where Big Pharma might just think they can rove the world with impunity
This time Lady Justice would again listen to their sorry case in the United States of America and I can only hope the moral, ethical and social consequences of Pfizer’s actions in Africa would exact high compensatory redress and punitive damages for their excursion to Africa regardless of the legal genius of their high powered attorneys.
The perseverance of the attorneys for the plaintiffs can only be commended and long suffering of the victims after all these years and trials leaves one quite touched and also apoplectic in righteous indignation at the inhumane and uncompassionate legalistic view Pfizer have portrayed.
Nonetheless, it must be heard loud and clear all around the world that Africans, the Third World and people in developing countries – for the want of more politically correct demographic appellations – are NOT guinea pigs or lab mice to be abused and discarded at the whim of some mad Mengele-esce [5] scientist or global corporation.
Earlier blogs on this issue

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are accepted if in context are polite and hopefully without expletives and should show a name, anonymous, would not do. Thanks.