In “The killer drug,” Joe Paduda of Managed Care Matters discusses how four deaths caused by the off-label use of Fentora have had Fentora-manufacturer Cephalon in crisis control. Mr. Paduda claims that Cephalon is known for aggressive marketing to physicians regarding the of off-label uses of their pharmaceuticals.
Why would Nigerians boycott a polio vaccine?
It seems like Africans don’t know what’s best for them. They fear that the vaccine would make them infertile. Shouldn’t they trust Western medicine more than their local health treatments?
If past experience is a guide, probably not.
The Washington Times (“Nigerians suing Pfizer…“) and AllAfrica.com (“…Pfizer…“) report on the 1996 tragedy in Kano, Nigeria. In 1996 there was a Meningitis outbreak in the northern-Nigerian city of Kano.
“The firm, it is alleged, broke all the rules of ethical conduct to rush its doctors and a controversial new and unapproved antibiotic, Trovan, into a rural and crisis-torn area to try the product in a way which was forbidden under international rules.”
Now Pfizer is being sued in four different court cases related to the 11 deaths and 189 injuries cause by Trovan. The case has seriously hurt the reputation of Western medicine in Nigeria and may be the reason locals were hesitant to receive the polio vaccine.
Ahmad Nadabo offers a level-headed argument on the Kano case. He claims that if Pfizer misbehaved, then the myth of the evil first world corporation manipulating third world countries (e.g.: The Constant Gardener) would be fulfilled. Further:
“It is possible that Pfizer did everything that the prosecution alleges. It is possible that everyone lied their heads off and was complicit in an illegal and immoral drugs trial. The medical authorities in Nigeria may have conspired with Pfizer’s employees and stooges to pull off the multinational’s scheme. It is possible because anything is possible. It is also likely that Pfizer did not rush to the outbreak solely because it believed its drug could help the victims. It is very likely that Pfizer also believed that this was an entirely valid and safe trial and that it operated in good faith. It may yet be widely accepted that undertaking it helped children suffer less.
All that can get thrashed out in open court. But we need to remember this. Big firms are not on the whole wicked or even especially devious. We need them and we need to remember that they are not aliens, villains or even strangers. They are seldom heroic philanthropists and we are fools if we expect them to be. So as Pfizer’s behaviour comes under magnifying glass, let’s remember to be fair as well as vigorous in our scrutiny.