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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Jeunes Africains cobayes d’un groupe pharmaceutique ?

by Camille Bauer

Were African Children Used as Guinea Pigs by a Drugs Giant?

Translated Tuesday 29 May 2007, by Carol Gullidge

The parents of Nigerian children who took part in a clinical trial in 1996 without their knowledge have accused a US drugs company of violating Nigerian law, the international Declaration of Helsinki that governs ethical medical research, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Nigeria. A lawsuit has been filed against Pfizer, accusing them of causing death or disability in children while using them to test a new drug.

Last weekend, Kano, the largest State in Nigeria, filed a lawsuit before its High Court, accusing the American drug company Pfizer of having “secretly used children as guinea pigs while testing a medicine under the pretext of humanitarian aid”. The State is demanding $2.75 million from Pfizer as compensation for the children who died and for those who are suffering after-effects following their participation in the clinical trial. The public prosecutor, who has ordered the court to retain 29 charges, estimates that eleven of the children on the trial died and 181 have contracted various medical conditions: deafness, paralysis, brain damage... This episode reopens a court-room saga that, since 2001, has already led the parents of certain victims before the courts of Kano and New York.

In 1996, at the height of a meningitis epidemic, Pfizer, the world’s number-1 drug laboratory, is alleged to have tested a new medicine, Trovan Floxacin, on 200 children from Kano – a poor region in northern Nigeria – without respecting the most basic ethical norms. “A clear case of exploiting the ignorant”, is how it is summed up in the report written by Nigerian experts in 2001 and made public only last year by the Washington Post.

According to this text, which details the information already published by the Washington Post in 2001, the American company never obtained authorization from the Nigerian government, any more than it properly informed the parents of the children. Under the pressure of press disclosures, Pfizer, which denies having bent the ethical rules in the slightest and maintains that “Trovan has incontestably saved lives”, had to admit last year that the letter authorizing the trial by the Nigerian hospital had been backdated. This letter has nevertheless been one of the factors put forward by the firm to obtain the approval for Trovan to be sold commercially on the American market. On the evidence of information linking Trovan with liver diseases and deaths, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American organization responsible for approving the sale of medicines, has drastically reduced the use of the product, already banned by the EU.

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