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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 June 2007, 07:14 GMT 08:14 UK
Anger at deadly Nigerian drug trials
By Senan Murray
BBC News website, Kano

In school, Anas Mohammadu's mates call him "horror" and make fun of him.

When the 14-year-old goes to bed at night, he dreams of becoming a soldier.

Anas
Anas survived the treatment, but was permanently damaged
His father, Muhammadu Mustapha, knows his son's dream is unlikely to come true.

"It's only a pipedream. You don't become a soldier with weak and wobbly legs and a permanently drooling mouth," he says bitterly.

"He tires too quickly. The other day, he was trying to draw water from a well and the small bucket almost pulled him into the well."

But Anas is lucky to be alive.

Deformities

Other children who were used in the controversial 1996 drug trial by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer died.

Muhammadu Mustapha
The Americans and some local Nigerian doctors gave Anas this evil drug
Anas's father
Anas, then only three years old, was the first child to be given the experimental antibiotic Trovan at the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Kano, during the drug trial.

Pfizer tested the then unregistered drug in Nigeria's north-western Kano State during an outbreak of meningitis which had affected thousands of children.

Officials in Kano say more than 50 children died in the experiment, while many others developed mental and physical deformities.

But Pfizer says only 11 of the 200 children used in the drug trial died.

"From our records, the fatalities were only 11, but the survival rate was 94 per cent," Pfizer spokesman in New York, Bryant Haskins, told the BBC News website.

Pfizer say the clinical evidence points to the deaths during the study being the direct result of meningitis and not the treatment provided during the study.

They say they always acted in the best interest of the children involved, using the best medical knowledge and practices available.

But following pressure from rights groups and families affected by the trial, the Nigerian government set up an expert medical panel to review the drug trial.

The experiment was "an illegal trial of an unregistered drug", the Nigerian panel concluded, and a "clear case of exploitation of the ignorant".

'Verbal consent'

Pfizer denies any wrongdoing and reiterates its position that its trial of Trovan was conducted in accordance with Nigerian regulations.

Hajara
Hajara survived the trials but cannot now hear or speak

"These allegations against Pfizer, which are not new, are highly inflammatory and not based on all the facts," Mr Haskins, recently told Reuters news agency.

He also said the trial had helped save lives.

The company has previously said that "verbal consent" had been obtained from the parents of the children concerned and that the exercise was "sound from medical, scientific, regulatory and ethical standpoints".

But Mr Mustapha is still burning with anger.

"My son was ill and we took him to the hospital like any other family would. Then the Americans and some local Nigerian doctors injected Anas with this evil drug."

Another man, Hassan Sani, says his daughter Hajara, 14, was also given the drug.

He says the pill made his daughter deaf and unable to speak, and he wants the doctors involved to be treated as criminals.

Pfizer says these are symptoms of meningitis and there is nothing to suggest that Trovan killed or injured any children.

Hassan Sani
We did not suspect that our children were being used for an experiment
Hajara's father
"The American doctors took advantage of our illiteracy and cheated us and our children. We thought they were helping us," Mr Sani says.

"We did not suspect that our children were being used for an experiment. They have cheated us and our children. All I can say is that God will judge them according to their evil deeds.

"Where there is a crime, there must be punishment."

Pfizer claim that the mortality rate for a second group not using Trovan was 4% higher than those that did.

'Charges'

After more than a decade of silence, the Nigerian government has decided to sue Pfizer, seeking $7bn (3.5bn) in damages for the families of children who allegedly died or suffered side-effects in the experiment.

Kano State government has also filed separate charges against Pfizer.

But Mr Sani says compensation will not be enough.

"In addition to the compensation, they should be killed like the children they have killed," he says.

The Pfizer experiment was cited by many as a reason for the mass rejection of polio vaccinations in many parts of northern Nigeria in recent years.

Some local Islamic preachers said there was a western plot to sterilise Muslim women.

After several tests were carried out to proving the vaccine's safety, the programme has now been resumed.

Whether the families ever receive compensation, it will never be enough to bring back Anas's lost dreams of becoming a soldier.




SEE ALSO
Q&A: Nigeria sues Pfizer
05 Jun 07 |  Africa
Nigeria's drug trial fears
14 Mar 01 |  Africa

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