Kudos to Shekarau & Pfizer

1 Comment » May 27th, 2009 posted by // Categories: General Articles

Kudos to Shekarau & Pfizer

At last, the Kano State Government and Pfizer have reached an agreement regarding the out-of-court settlement of the Trovan cases which have dragged on for years. Governor Shekarau personally led the Kano State delegation to the London talks to underscore the importance his government attached to a timely resolution of the contentious issues. After several years of litigation over the 1996 Trovan drug trials which happened during the meningitis epidemic in the ancient city of Kano, both parties have now achieved a common ground in bringing the saga to an end. Shekarau was rather gracious in his reaction to the development. In an interview with BBC, he said, “Pfizer has been on the market for several decades, and they’ve been certain to be a very reputable company. I see this just as an accident which can happen to the best of all people anywhere”.

That is exactly what many of the non-governmental organizations had been canvassing all along. Many had feared that if the litigation were to go on to the logical conclusion, it may have taken up to ten years to resolve all the issues. Added to that was the fact that there was no cast iron guarantee that the Kano State government and the patients who participated in the trials would smile home in victory. For Pfizer, too, a long litigation with all the propaganda being mounted by busybodies who wanted to cash in on the matter to inch their way into relevance and have a share of the booty, was not advisable for a global giant of its stature. For both parties therefore it was a win-win situation. It was understood that Pfizer was not admitting to any wrongdoing on its part and still held on to its claim that it followed due process in carrying out the trials. That was to be expected since those were the real issues in contention at the courts.

Back home from London, the governor addressed the media on Monday, 25th May where he announced the setting up of two committees comprising 4 persons each.  The first committee was for the Pfizer Healthcare Fund while the second one was saddled with Trovan trial compensation. The governor announced that the committees would work in collaboration with Pfizer to arrive at a transparent and workable formula for disbursing funds.

In direct reference to the virtual embarrassment which happened on the eve of the London talks when some so-called concerned parties sought an injunction in a US court to halt the settlement talks on the grounds that Pfizer was cheating the Nigerian patients, the governor counseled those involved to retrace their steps because their action was not in the best interest of the patients. He wondered how anyone could prefer unending litigation to a productive settlement which takes care of the needs of all those involved. Governor Shekarau counseled the victims not to be deceived by the promise of bigger compensation by those championing the US case as it could turn out to be a mirage.

A US attorney, Richard Althschuler, had claimed that the settlement was unfair because it played on the illiteracy of the patients who he claimed were coerced into signing. The total sum involved in the settlement is $75 million – lawyers’ fees ($10 Million), Pfizer Healthcare Fund ($30 million) and Patients’ compensation ($35 million). Althschuler apparently felt he could secure a much larger package from Pfizer. The pharmaceutical company had in reaction explained as follows: “The plaintiffs have grossly misrepresented the situation to the court. The fact is that the cases filed by purported study participants in the U.S. are separate and distinct from the Kano State and Nigerian federal government cases filed in Nigeria, which the company has sought to settle for many months.”

But with the latest pronouncement from the governor it seems Mr. Althschuler and his Nigerian collaborators are on their own.

The current development has cast Shekarau in the mold of a statesman who knows the difference between the welfare of the people and plain greed. The civilized way he has handled the rather testy talks has shown that he is one public officer worthy of the name. On the opposing side, Pfizer has emerged as a corporate giant with a deep sense of social responsibility. It was after all Pfizer that insisted that compensation funds must go directly to verifiable patients or their families and that transparency must govern the entire process. Knowing how such funds have ended up in private pockets in the past, many public commentators had sided with Pfizer. It was indeed heartwarming that Governor Shekarau himself displayed the same sense of commitment to transparency.

But it is not yet ‘Uhuru’ as there are still tiny details to be worked out before the money is released in tranches. The NGO’s who have beamed their spotlights on this matter for several years cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball now. Didn’t the sage once say that eternal vigilance was the price of transparency?

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