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Conflict Mining/Resources, Environment, Human Rights, Niger Delta, Nigeria

Kano State settles with Pfizer on meningitis epidemic

Kano state has agreed to an out of court settlement with US pharmaceutical company Pfizer in relation to the unlicensed trial of a meningitis drugTrovan (trovafloxacin) in 200 children in 1996. Kano prosecutors had been seeking $2.75 billion in compensation. Kano State had claimed the drug killed 11 children and left dozens disabled. Pfizer are claiming it was meningitis which killed the children and not the drug.

The Constant Gardener connection
The UK Independent has published a story which supports the claim against Pfizer citing an ex employee who wrote to the CEO saying the trial had “violated ethical rules.” The employee, Juan Walterspiel was later fired. According to the Independent it was this case in Nigeria that inspired John Le Carre’s Constant Gardener and not Kenya where the film was set.

In 1996, the company needed a human trial for what it hoped would be a pharmaceutical “blockbuster”, a broad spectrum antibiotic that could be taken in tablet form. The US-based company sent a team of its doctors into the Nigerian slum city of Kano in the midst of an appaling meningitis epidemic to perform what it calls a “humanitarian mission”. However the accusers claim it was an unlicensed medical trial on critically-ill children.

A team of Pfizer doctors reached the Nigerian camp just as the outbreak, which killed at least 11,000 people, was peaking. They set themselves up within metres of a medical station run by the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières, which was dispensing proven treatments to ease the epidemic.

From the crowd that had gathered at the Kano Infectious Diseases Hospital, 200 sick children were picked. Half were given doses of the experimental Pfizer drug called Trovan and the others were treated with a proven antibiotic from a rival company.

Two weeks after the Pfizer team arrived they simply packed up and left leaving 11 children dead and dozens suffering from various side effects along with cholera, measles and the original meningitus.

While I would not want to be critical of the Kano State government in agreeing to the $75 million out of court settlement which could see $35 million going to the families, it is so important in cases like this that multinationals are exposed and made to pay for their actions. $35 million is a lot of money for the families but it is a drop in the ocean for Pfizer and we cannot continue to be bought off my the multinationals in this manner.

The trial against Shell brought by the Ogoni people begins on the 26th May. It would be extremely disappointing if the plaintiffs in the case were to settle with Shell because no amount of settlement would be sufficient compensation for their role in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 8 and the environmental damage they have committed against the Ogoni and other people of the region

Links: The Case Against Shell in Ogoniland


  1. “While I would not want to be critical of the Kano State government in agreeing to the $75 million out of court settlement which could see $35 million going to the families” The $35m settlement was a quick and dirty way of closing off this saga. There are many other dark deeds waiting on both sides that seemed to have been swept away. For the families, the cash would help but will never bring back the dead ones. The shame is for a State Government to settle on such tiny sum. Pfizer is a research-based, global pharmaceutical company that can afford $1Bn to clean up the mess. But of course, the mess continues, future history is all we have.

  2. Comment by post author


    Beauty @ I did not want to be so brutal but you are absolutely right – it was a wrong decision to settle. The settlement was a drop in the ocean for such a huge multinational.

  3. jumai

    Beauty, what exactly is your point? That the state Government should have seen the Trovan case as a money manufacturing factory? You seem to be saying that because the pharmaceutical company is rich, it should be blackmailed to part with a large slice of its profit. I am glad the State government in their wisdom understands what is best for all concerned, an out-of —court settlement.
    In as much as I sympathize with the families of those who lost loved ones and agree that no amount of money can ever bring back the dead; I vehemently disagree with the hue and cry about Trovan being the killer drug.