African News

Pfizer pays compensation to parents of victims

By  | 15 August 2011 at 02:20 | 487 views

The world’s largest research drug company, Pfizer, has started paying compensation to families affected during a 1996 drug trial blamed for the deaths of 11 children and disabilities in dozens others that include brain damage, paralysis and slurred speech.

The payments, which started last Thursday were however made to only four out of 546 families. Although about 200 children took part in the trial of a meningitis drug, Trovan.

Parents of the four children who died as a result of the trial received checks of $175,000 each at a reception in the northern Nigerian city of Kano, Nigeria, where the trial took place. A dispute over whether DNA testing should be used to verify the identification of victims had held up compensation payments. It had been earlier reported that the test scheme has intimidated families of victims of the drug trial from following through in the compensation process. Thursday’s payments followed the release of eight results out of the 546 saliva swab DNA tests, said Abubakar Bashir Wali, who heads the claims verification committee.

Out of these eight results, four died as a result of their participation in the clinical trial and each is entitled to $175,000 as full and final settlement of compensation, Wali said at the reception. The trial drug left the other four whose DNA results came back with permanent deformities, and Wali said they would be compensated commensurate with their disabilities (see photos).

"It was not clear how the disabilities could be quantified monetarily. The compensation cannot replace my loss, but will only cushion the hardship the drug trial caused me and my family," Hauwa Umar, who lost a child, said between sobs.

Outside the ceremony, a group of claimants accused the compensation committee of unnecessary delay in the verification and payment of claims.

"It is frustrating that 10 months after taking over 500 swabs for DNA tests only eight results have been released despite assurances that the results would be out within six weeks," Surajo Hassan said.

Hassan said his nephew suffered deafness from the trial. "The procedures contained in the settlement agreement are quite cumbersome, and we appeal to all stakeholders to be patient," Wali said at the ceremony.

Pfizer, an American company, issued a statement from New York, saying: "We are pleased that these four individuals, the first group of qualified claimants...have received compensation."

The statement described the initial payments as a milestone in the implementation of the settlement agreement reached by Kano state government and Pfizer . The payments were part of a $75m out-of-court settlement reached between Pfizer and the Kano state government in July 2009 over the drug trial, which occurred during a meningitis epidemic that, according to Pfizer, killed nearly 12,000 people. Pfizer says it was given approval from government authorities and about 200 children were involved in the trial, half of whom were treated with Trovan. Last year, the pharmaceutical giant hired investigators to find evidence of corruption in Kano’s government.

France-based medical charity Doctors Without Borders, which was at the time urgently trying to treat meningitis patients in Nigeria, has harshly criticized Pfizer over the trial. But a 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"

He added: "We are fed up with this case. Our children are dead and some are maimed. We want to end this matter now, but some people are being opportunistic for riches."

Additional payments would be forthcoming to the remainder of the victims, thus putting to rest a 15 year-old legal battle over the scandalous drug trial in Northern, Kano state, Nigeria.