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PLN editor quoted in article about medical experimentation

Workers World, Jan. 1, 2007.
PLN editor quoted in article about medical experimentation - Workers World 2007

Nigeria charges Pfizer with deadly drug tests

By Larry Hales

Published Jun 7, 2007 1:28 AM

Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, is being sued for $2 billion by authorities in Kano, the third-largest city in Nigeria. Criminal charges are being prepared as well. The suit was brought because of drug experiments that Pfizer conducted a decade ago. The experimentation led to disabilities and the deaths of at least 11 children, according to Nigerian officials.

Around 200 Nigerian children with bacterial meningitis were in the study. Besides the 11 who died, others suffered various injuries and long-term disabilities from the treatment administered by Pfizer, ranging from blindness, seizures, deafness, muteness and brain damage to paralysis.

The experimentation involved the use of an untested and unapproved drug called Trovan Floxacin during an outbreak of meningitis and other diseases in Kano in April 1996. Pfizer and the World Health Organization “volunteered” to help with the outbreak. Meningitis killed 15,000 people in Africa that year.

The lawsuit says that: “In the midst of the epidemic, Pfizer devised a scheme under which it misrepresented and failed to disclose its primary motive in seeking to participate in giving care to the victims of the epidemic.”

It further states: “Pfizer never disclosed that it intended to experiment on vulnerable victims or conduct any clinical trials without the necessary approvals from regulatory agencies in Nigeria but pretended it came to render humanitarian service.”

Pfizer claims it had an authorization from the government of Nigeria to administer the tests, but Abdulhamid Isa Dutse, the physician who presided over the tests of the antibiotic Trovan, said the letter was written as long as a year after the completion of the tests. (Washington Post, Jan. 16, 2001)

Though the letter stating that the hospital’s ethics committee had reviewed and accepted the test was written on stationery belonging to Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital and was dated March 28, 1996, six days before the beginning of the experiment, there was no ethics committee at that hospital at that time.

The Washington Post article says: “Sadiq S. Wali, the hospital’s medical director, recently told The Washington Post the document was ‘a lie.’ He said the hospital had no ethics committee at the time Pfizer’s test was underway and did not organize it—or create the letterhead stationery bearing his name that was used in the approval letter—until months later.”

While Pfizer continues to claim it had authorization to administer the test, its proof of authorization is now known to be fraudulent.

This deadly fraud is said to have been the basis for the novel and film “The Constant Gardener” by John Le Carré.

It should come as no surprise that Pfizer would commit such a crime in the Third World. Pharmaceutical companies have stepped up their experimentation in poor countries.

A USA Today article in 2005 said that many companies were looking to increase trials outside of the U.S. and Western Europe because of the lower costs in doing so and less strict rules regarding experimentation.

Today, 50 percent of GlaxoSmithKline’s tests, 70 percent of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals’ and more than 50 percent of Merck’s trials are done outside the U.S. and Western Europe.

At the same time, experimentation in the imperialist countries is mostly conducted on oppressed nationalities and the poor.

Workers World reported on two cases: In New York, Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) enrolled HIV-positive children in group homes in tests of new drugs. (WW, May 12, 2005) The federal Institute of Medicine in 2006 issued a report calling for relaxing regulations that limited biomedical research on prisoners. (WW, Aug. 31, 2006)

Paul Wright of Prison Legal News said of the proposal for increased testing on inmates and relaxing the regulations, “It strikes me as pretty ridiculous to start talking about prisoners getting access to cutting-edge research and medications when they can’t even get penicillin and high-blood-pressure pills.”

The experimentations by pharmaceutical companies, in many cases in underdeveloped nations and on the poor and oppressed in imperialist nations, constitute a war, waged by the capitalist mode of production. At the heart of it is pure racism in the service of profit.

The lives of people of color are valued less. Once the effects of new drugs are demonstrated through testing on the poor at lowered cost, the companies can sell these drugs to people in the Western world who can afford them. Other than being experimented on, the poor and oppressed around the world will not have access to the drugs if they prove effective.

The revelation of the tests conducted in Kano and the suffering of the children lied to and taken advantage of should not be taken lightly and the history of tests in Africa has to be further investigated.

It was the experimental use of a polio vaccine in Africa that is pointed to as most likely to have transferred SIV, the simian form of HIV, from apes to humans, unleashing the HIV virus in Africa, which now has 25 million of the world’s 39 million HIV cases.

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