The parents of four Nigerian children who died of meningitis have been paid compensation after a 15-year legal battle against Pfizer over a controversial drug trial.
The world's biggest research-based pharmaceutical company announced on Thursday that it had made payments of $175,000 to each family following a settlement two years ago, the Guardian reports.
Pfizer was sued after 11 children died in a clinical trial when the northern state of Kano was hit by Africa's worst ever meningitis epidemic in 1996.
While 100 children received ceftriaxone, the "gold-standard" treatment, another 100 were given an experimental oral antibiotic called Trovan, since banned in Europe due to concerns over liver toxicity.
Five children died on Trovan and six on ceftriaxone.
The Guardian reports:
But later it was claimed that Pfizer did not have proper consent from parents to use an experimental drug on their children and questions were raised over the documentation of the trial.
Legal action filed against the company alleged that some received a dose lower than recommended, leaving many children with brain damage, paralysis or slurred speech.
US-based Pfizer had argued that meningitis and not its antibiotic had led to the deaths of 11 children and harm to dozens of others. But in 2009 it reached a tentative out-of-court settlement with the Kano state government worth $75m.
The families of four of the children each collected cheques for $175,000 from a compensation trust fund, after submitting DNA samples to show that the dead were their offspring.
The decision over who is compensated and for how much is being managed by an independent board of trustees in Kano, not by the government or Pfizer, the company has said. "We are pleased that these four individuals, the first group of qualified claimants of the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund, have received compensation," said Pfizer spokesman.
"This is the first step in a multiphase review process by which the independent board of trustees that manages the funds will deliver payments to all other claimants.
"We thank them for their commitment and dedication to seeing this process through in the most timely and transparent way possible."
But one parent who lost a daughter said the process was still dogged by local factionalism and he had no idea when he would receive money.
"I talked to my attorney this week," said the man, who did not wish to be named for legal reasons. "They are still in contact with Pfizer as to when I will get paid. We are just crossing our fingers."
Although Pfizer said that only 200 children had been given Trovan or the older antibiotic, 547 families sued, the New York Times reports.
More than 12,000 Africans died of meningitis in 1996; in addition, the drugs in the trial were given only to children who were already very sick, it reports.
The company also said that Trovan had first been tested in 5,000 Americans and Europeans, it reports.
The NYT reports:
Pfizer said Trovan saved lives in Nigeria, because 94 percent of the Nigerian children who received the drug survived — more than normally do if no medicine is administered.
The company also said that Trovan had first been tested in 5,000 Americans and Europeans. Pfizer said Trovan saved lives in Nigeria, because 94 percent of the Nigerian children who received the drug survived — more than normally do if no medicine is administered.
Nonetheless, according to a 2006 Washington Post article, the trial’s certificate of approval from a hospital ethics board was forged, and Pfizer said its own investigation had proved that the certificate was “incorrect.”
Families of children who died or were injured while on the second antibiotic contended that Pfizer had prescribed low doses of the drug to make the results for Trovan look better.
Last year a U.S. diplomatic cable uncovered by WikiLeaks revealed that Pfizer hired investigators to look for evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa, in an effort to persuade him to drop the legal action. There is no evidence that he was swayed.