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TROVAN AND THE BOUT OF MISINFORMATION

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A contributor to the debacle once drew an analogy between the Trovan issue and the Trojan horse. His focus was on whether the offer of monetary compensation for victims of the unfortunate trial of the drug conducted by Pfizer in Kano in 1996 was as a dangerous a proposition as what the Greeks offered the Romans.

Another analogy seems quite appropriate to an issue that just won't leave the pages of newspapers. Eneke, the bird in China Achebe's Things Fall Apart, says that since the hunter has learnt to shoot without missing, it has decided to fly without perching!

On the one hand in this tussle are those who, acting as government agents or purporting to represent the interest of the victims of the trial, have the penchant for feeding the media with streams of disinformation out of frustration that they can't have access to the compensation package that has been negotiated for the settlement of the victims. They are the hunters. Their media offensives are, of course, complemented with spurious legal actions that have stalled the process of administering the compensation package. On the other hand are those of us who have seen through these unwholesome tactics and feel entitled to provide the other sides to their stories. We are determined to stop perching until the hunters exhaust their armory of poisoned arrows.

While there has really not been any let in the spate of bad publicity around the issue, there has, recently, been renewed focus on the case, with articles in a variety of media outlets. This intervention is a response to the recent series of Next reports in which the paper seems to regal in the belief that it had recorded a breakthrough in investigative journalism. The paper needs to be reminded, however, that the Nasidi report is more than a decade old. It was done when Nasidi was director of the department of vaccines, Federal Ministry of Health. The report, although conducted at the instance of the Federal Government, was never officially released. Interestingly, in October 2007, a federal court in Abuja heard a case brought by Pfizer charging that the Nasidi Report was illegal, inaccurate, and should be quashed. Indeed, a lot of the issues raised in the Next report are rehashed allegations that have been challenged in a court of law.

In the end, with the prevalence of good judgment, through the intervention of credible Nigerians and the realistic position of Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, the Pfizer offer was as safe as any agreement could be – except, of course, in the warped thinking of opportunists posing as defenders of the rights of the genuine claimants of compensation.

We are familiar with the issues raised in the report to understand where those behind it are coming from.

It is important to note the various falsifications in consideration of the Nasidi report

Next should realize that the report was prepared from the perspective of trying to exonerate the Ministry of Health from culpability and liability in the Trovan misadventure in the face of a federal court action.

If the Next correspondent were interested in balance, and had the willingness to do a thorough job, s/he would have provided a comprehensive perspective to the issues, including Pfizer's objections against the Nasidi report, focusing on fairness and impartiality of the process by which the report was generated. To the extent that these perspectives are not presented, NEXT's report cannot be said to be complete, accurate, and fair. For the information of impartial observers, Pfizer's objections to the report were on the following grounds:

Dr. Nasidi, Chairman of the Investigation Committee that issued the report, had been personally involved in the federal government's response to the 1996 epidemic, and openly stated his objection to the study during a visit to Kano's Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) with Professor Idris Mohammed, himself a well known critic of the trial. Normally, Dr. Nasidi should have excused himself from the investigation, given his personal views. Even though Pfizer objected to Dr. Nasidi's role as committee chairman, due to his lack of impartiality, Dr. Nasidi refused to step down. Indeed, he would go on to provide evidence to the committee. Hence, he acted as committee chairman, witness and judge in the investigation.

Pfizer was neither given any opportunity to hear the witnesses' testimonies before the committee nor were Pfizer's lawyers able to cross-examine them, making the report void and in breach of the company's constitutional right to fair hearing under Nigeria's 1999 Constitution.

The report was largely based on the submissions of Dr. Nasidi and Dr. Idris Mohammed, and downplayed or completely ignored all pieces of evidence that favoured Pfizer, including the following;

o The KanoState office of National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) approved the Trovan study.

o Several staff members of Kano's Ministry of Health, including Dr. Shehu Yusuf and Mr. Badulkadir, assisted in the study.

o The Trovan trial saved lives, reducing the fatality rate 30% to 6% in the group treated with Trovan.

o NAFDAC not only granted Pfizer the authority to import Trovan into Nigeria but also approved Trovan for investigational (clinical trial) use.

o Pfizer obtained informed consent from the children's relatives and family.

It is also important to note that Nigerian government neither accepted the report, nor considered the report in the Federal Executive Council, nor issued a white paper on it.

The media in Nigeria should realize that both the Federal Government of Nigeria and the KanoState government have reached a settlement agreement with Pfizer regarding all four cases related to the Trovan clinical study. There has been real progress in the implementation of such settlement agreement, including the foundation-laying for a new, state-of-the-art, medical center in Kano.

There has, of course, been some spanner in the wheel of administering the rest of the compensation package, arising from litigations by those who are frustrated by their inability to make material gains from the situation. In effect, Next's reports, like other reports that have been inspired by these frustrated “stakeholders,” are backward-looking and irrelevant to the current state of the Trovan case.

Newspapers will continue to find scoops for exclusive reports fascinating. But the point needs to be made that not all of the sources of such scoops are credible – and not all of the motives behind “leaking” “secret” reports are noble. The sources of the newly resurrected Nasidi report are, in my opinion, ignoble.

The challenge that interested members of the public, including the media, should address at this stage is: Who is holding up the process of administering compensation to those who were genuinely affected by the Trovan trial? Let's us also see this as the Next challenge.

Mustapha is public affairs commentator based in Abuja.

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