You all thought that John Le Carre’s ‘The Constant Gardner’ was fiction did you?
Officials in Nigeria have brought criminal charges for the drugmaker’s alleged role in the deaths of numerous children who received an unapproved drug during a meningitis epidemic, The Washington Post reports. Authorities in Kano, the country’s largest state, filed eight charges this month related to the 1996 clinical trial, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages and restitution.
The move represents a rare – perhaps unprecedented – instance in which the developing world’s anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges, The Post writes. It also represents the latest in a string of public-relations blows stemming from the decade-old clinical trial, in which Pfizer says it acted ethically.
The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer’s actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged.
The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children’s families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was “unfit for human use.” Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria. Pfizer and its doctors “agreed to do an illegal act,” the criminal charges state, and behaved “in a manner so rash and negligent as to endanger human life.”
Aliyu Umar, who served as Kano attorney general until earlier this month says “We realize we are the Third World and we need assistance,” Umar said. “But we frown on people who think they can take advantage of us, especially if it’s for profit. That’s why we decided we needed to take action against Pfizer. Those people responsible should be punished, whether in Nigeria or in the United States, for what they did to our people.”
Le Carre himself said about The Constant Gardner “By comparison with the reality, my story [is] as tame as a holiday postcard.”