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If this story is true, it is not the first time that Africans have been used in unethical experiments that would never be attempted in developed nations. Pfizer is being sued by Nigeria for killing and disabling children whilst testing a drug for the treatment of meningitis. I will not make any judgment here whether the charges are valid, and Pfizer denies all wrongdoing. But, the story, if true, is cause for great concern. Here is the heart of the controversy:

The Nigerian authorities say 200 children were involved in the Trovan experiment, without the approval of local regulatory authorities. They allege that as many as 11 died because of the treatment and that others developed deformities, including brain damage and paralysis.

Trovan was approved in the US in 1997 for use by adults but not by children. Two years later the US Food and Drug Administration warned that the drug could cause liver damage. The medicine has since been discontinued...

Bryant Haskins, a Pfizer spokesman in New York, said the drug was administered in accordance with Nigerian law. “These allegations against Pfizer, which are not new, are highly inflammatory and not based on all the facts,” he said. “We continue to maintain ... that the Nigerian government was fully informed in advance of the clinical trial; that the trial was conducted appropriately, ethically and with the best interests of patients in mind; and that it helped save lives.”

Pfizer has said previously that it obtained “verbal consent” from the parents of the affected children, and that the drugs were administered properly. But, before the trial, Juan Walterspiel, a disease specialist for Pfizer, warned the company that the drug was not “tested for its sensitivity before the first child was exposed to a live-or-die experiment”.

Human rights groups have already accused some drugs firms of using Africa as a testing ground for medicines not approved by Europe or the US. In response to the Nigerian case,
Drug companies have treated the lives of Africans with lesser concern than Americans before, for example, in AIDS testing on infected pregnant women that used a placebo when testing a new drug rather than an efficacious medication that was already known to help prevent transmission to babies. Such unethical human experiments are a denial of the intrinsic equal worth and value of each human life.

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