Nigerians in drug trial take their case to US court

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 26 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:899
  1. Abiodun Raufu
  1. Lagos

    The families of 52 children who were part of a Pfizer drug trial seven years ago in Kano, northern Nigeria, have taken the multinational drug company to a district court in the US state of Connecticut to demand compensation for damage allegedly sustained during the drug trials.

    Pfizer tested its drug trovafloxacin (Trovan) in some children at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Kano in 1996 during an epidemic of meningitis. Many of the children died, while several others developed permanent mental and physical deformities (BMJ 2001;322:194, BMJ 2001;323:592).

    A counsel for the children, Lukman Ishola, says that Pfizer conducted the trial test of trovafloxacin on paediatric patients in a secretive manner without consent of their parents and guardians. He also claimed that the children's families were not told that they were taking part in a drug test.

    The lawyers are demanding $5m (£3.2m; a4.6m) compensation from Pfizer for each of the children, in addition to $25m as punitive damages.

    “My friends persuaded me to understand that if we fail to let the world know the injustice done to our children in Nigeria by this company, they will go on to other countries to do the same,” said Ali Darma, father of 12 year old Naja'atu Ali Darma, who was one of the children tested and who is now deaf and without speech.

    “That is why I agreed to join the suit. It is not the compensation that really matters but to see that our children's agony and pains do not go in vain. Those who are responsible for this must pay the price.”

    Pfizer's counsel, Abdullahi Ibrahim, however, denied the claims: “These allegations are unsupported and simply false.”

    The children's families said they had to resort to an American court after losing confidence in the ponderous Nigerian judicial system, which has stalled their case since March 2001, when it was first filed in court.

    Mr Darma said that they decided to withdraw the case from Nigeria and take it to the US court when it became clear that they were not likely to get justice in Nigeria after their case was adjourned more than 14 times.

    “It is unfortunate that a citizen of Nigeria cannot get justice in his own country,” said Mr Darma. “All our efforts at getting justice have failed as a result of unending adjournments.”

    Mr Ibrahim, however, absolved Pfizer of any blame: “The delay in this case was due to actions and inactions by the plaintiffs' counsel.”

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