The Nigerian government is taking on Pfizer for the drug company’s actions during a 1994 epidemic in their country during which at least 200 Nigerian children were used as guinea pigs to test a new drug according to an article in today’s Der Spiegel. It is estimated at least eleven children died and others were left with disabilities. Batatunde Irukera, a Nigerian lawyer was eating breakfast last October when approached by an old man who turned out to be a journalist who had devoted years to investigating the case. The man discovered the remnant of a file folder containing the statement: “Pfizer Meningitis Study” and a pink card which had the initials, “A.M.” They were able to trace the A.M. to a sixteen year old who was among the children that were tested. Pfizer in 1994 wanted to place on the market a new drug named Trovan which supposedly dealt with a variety of infections. Testing new drugs in the United States can be a long, drawn-out process so Pfizer was delighted it could test the drug in Nigeria which was experiencing an epidemic. There are now four law suits pending in Nigeria against Pfizer.
This incident raises questions more than furnishes answers. Should drugs be tested in poor areas of the world because it is time consuming to test them in post industrial societies? What type of information should be furnished impoverished people, who might lack education, concerning a drug program?