Nigeria is bringing criminal charges against Pfizer pharmaceuticals in the wake of its 1996 drug testing during a meningitis epidemic. The Washington Post reports that authorities filed eight charges this month, including counts of criminal conspiracy and voluntarily causing grievous harm. They also filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages from the world’s largest drug company.
The move represents a rare — perhaps unprecedented — instance in which the developing world’s anger at multinational drug companies has boiled over into criminal charges. The government alleges that Pfizer researchers selected 200 children and infants from crowds at a makeshift epidemic camp in Kano and gave about half of the group an untested antibiotic called Trovan. Researchers gave the other children what the lawsuit describes as a dangerously low dose of a comparison drug made by Hoffmann-La Roche. Nigerian officials say Pfizer’s actions resulted in the deaths of an unspecified number of children and left others deaf, paralyzed, blind or brain-damaged. The lawsuit says that the researchers did not obtain consent from the children’s families and that the researchers knew Trovan to be an experimental drug with life-threatening side effects that was “unfit for human use.” Parents were banned from the ward where the drug trial occurred, the suit says, and the company left no medical records in Nigeria.