[Marxism] Using Africans as guinea pigs

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at gmx.net
Mon Nov 19 01:18:41 MST 2007

>From the English version of Spiegel online:

Nigeria Takes On Pfizer over 'Killer Drug'

By Hauke Goos

The Nigerian government is taking on Pfizer, the world's biggest pharmaceutical company. It accuses the company of using a meningitis epidemic to test an unapproved drug on Nigerian children. Eleven children who participated in the tests died and others were left with disabilities.
In early 1996, Nigeria was hit by the one of the worst meningitis epidemics in history. Government officials have placed the final death toll at over 11,000.

At the time, Pfizer had just developed a new antibiotic called Trovan to treat a variety of infections.

Such drugs are used primarily in hospitals, mainly to treat blood poisoning. Their severe side effects make these antibiotics unsuitable for children. The risks of causing joint disease, abnormal cartilage growth and liver damage are simply too great.

As a rule, such agents are injected directly into the veins because that is the only way that they can work reliably. Initial tests had raised hopes that Trovan could be effective if swallowed in tablet form. Apparently, Pfizer hoped that this innovation would allow it to outpace market leader Bayer. The company believed that Trovan had the potential to become a "blockbuster" drug.

But Pfizer had a problem: In order to secure certification from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, it still needed to conduct a clinical trial. Pfizer evidently hoped that it could use the study in Africa to furnish proof that the new drug was also safe for children. The meningitis epidemic in Nigeria came at just the right moment.

Such tests are extremely difficult to conduct in industrialized countries, where very few parents are willing to allow their children to take part in clinical trials. Consequently, companies often turn to poor countries and regions, such as India and South America, Bangladesh and Thailand -- and Africa. Patients in these parts of the world are so poor they don't care if the drugs they receive have been approved or not. Within just a few years, developing countries have been transformed into an enormous test laboratory.

In the spring of 1996, Pfizer offered to help the Nigerian government deal with the outbreak. In late March, a medical team headed for Africa.

When they arrived in Kano, the Americans revealed that they were not on a humanitarian aid mission, but had been sent to administer medical tests. Physicians selected 200 sick children for the study. They had to be at least three months old and younger than 18, and they could not be HIV-positive or malnourished. It takes an enormous amount of money to pave the way for launching a drug like Trovan on the market -- on average €600 million. Pfizer didn't want to make any mistakes. Half the children were given Trovan, the other half received Rocephin, a competing product from Swiss manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche.

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