Friday, June 08, 2007

The people of Nigeria vs Pfizer Inc

Nigeria's federal government seeks $7 billion from Pfizer over drug study

By: BASHIR ADIGUN - Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria -- The Nigerian government filed a lawsuit Monday
against Pfizer Inc., asking for $7 billion in damages over allegations
the pharmaceutical company conducted a drug experiment that led to
deaths and disabilities among children more than a decade ago, court
papers showed.

The civil case filed in the capital, Abuja, is separate from a legal
challenge launched in the northern state of Kano that seeks $2 billion
from Pfizer, although all the cases stem from the same mid-1990s drug
study.

Pfizer has denied the charges in the Kano case, which are
substantively similar to those in the Abuja-based suit.

In the civil suit filed in Kano, authorities allege Pfizer illegally
conducted a drug experiment on 200 children during a meningitis
epidemic in the state's main city, also called Kano, in 1996,
resulting in deaths, brain damage, paralysis and slurred speech in
many of the children.

Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental
antibiotic, Trovan. Another 100 children, who were control patients in
the study, received an approved antibiotic, ceftriaxone -- but the
dose was lower than recommended, the families' lawyers alleged.

Up to 11 children in the study died, while others suffered physical
disabilities and brain damage.

Pfizer has insisted its records show none of the deaths was linked to
Trovan or substandard treatment. That civil suit is asking the judge
to award Kano state $2 billion. Both that case and a related criminal
action against Pfizer officers were both postponed Monday after the
plaintiff's counsel failed to show up for the initial court hearing.

The judge hearing the case said criminal proceedings lodged against
company officers would now begin July 4, while a related civil case
seeking the monetary damages was to begin July 9.

State and company officials were not immediately available for
comment. Nigeria's government is in disarray after the May 29
inauguration of new governors, state assemblies and elected federal
officers, including a new president.

In the Abuja civil case, the government is asking for $500 million for
treatment, compensation and support for the victims of the drug test
and their families. Another $450 million is earmarked for damages
related to money spent to overcome societal misgivings related to the
test, and $1 billion is sought to pay for health programs. The federal
government is also seeking $5 billion as general damages.

New York-based Pfizer, the world's largest drug maker, has denied any
wrongdoing. A federal court in Manhattan dismissed a 2001 lawsuit by
disabled Nigerians who allegedly took part in the study, but the case
is under appeal.

Authorities in Kano state are blaming the Pfizer controversy for
widespread suspicion of government public health policies,
particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio,
which has met strong resistance in northern Nigeria.

Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer
controversy as evidence of a U.S.-led conspiracy. Rumors that polio
vaccines spread AIDS or infertility spurred Kano and another heavily
Muslim state, Zamfara, to boycott a long-term campaign to vaccinate
millions.

Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in 2004, after an 11-month
boycott. But the delay set back global eradication -- the boycott was
blamed for causing an outbreak that spread the disease across Africa
and into the Middle East.

-- Associated Press Writer Salisu Rabiu contributed to this report
from Kano, Nigeria.

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