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AT LAST, TROVAN VICTIMS SUBMIT TO DNA TEST

By NBF News
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Nana, the little daughter of Alhaji Ismaila Shaubu, was eight years old when she died. Like several others of her time, she died of the meningitis that broke out in some parts of Northern Nigeria in 1996. She was, probably, one of the sick ones, who took part in the clinical study of a newly manufactured drug, Trovan, meant for the treatment of cases of meningitis.

In between the years, 15 years precisely, that clinical trial by the American pharmaceutical company, Pfizer Inc., became a subject of legal battle. Participants in the clinical trial had gone to court to seek redress over the administration of the trial allegedly done without their consent. An out-of-court resolution was eventually entered into by the parties to the dispute and compensation package was agreed upon.

Based on the resolution, patients that took part in the study will do a DNA test to prove their claims of participation. This did not go down well with the Trovan Victims Forum (TVF), who had their misgivings about the DNA test as well as about the fact that the Trust was receiving claims of persons who were not known to them and were not part of their legal struggle.

They went back to court in Abuja to apply for an injunction suspending the process pending the determination of the substantive case. But last week, what seems like an eternal battle for the litigants and an eternal grief for genuine victims of the study is ending well for all parties.

The atmosphere at the Lamido Road office of the Meningitis /Health Care Trust, Kano, said it more. It was upbeat and optimistic, and definitely far from the raw angst and protests that characterized the disputing years. Everybody is hopeful to qualify, the claimants are submitting samples, and everyone is dreaming of compensation in dollars.

The executive secretary of the Trust, Mr. David Odiwo, could not hide his delight at the eventual administration of the DNA test to the claimants. He stressed that the Trust has resolved areas of differences with the chairman of TVF, Alhaji Mustapha Maisekeli. He told Daily Sun: 'The resumption of the DNA sample collection was as result of the eventual lifting of the injunction by an Abuja- based court on the Trust.'

The turnout was impressive. At the Trust's complex, right under the shade, about 40 men sat orderly on white plastic chairs, waiting to be called in. They looked hopeful. A similar turn up of women and children sat or slept in the living room of the building. In one of the rooms, the forensic experts were at work, recording their details, giving out sweets and extracting saliva samples from claimants as part of the DNA collection process. According to Odiwo: 'The DNA is being conducted by an international firm, the best in the business today. They handed the Yugoslavian DNA test, as well as Tsunami in Thailand. From what I understand from their team leader, they would be heading to Japan to assist in the DNA profiling there. Based on their antecedents, they sure have a rich history in forensic services.'

The process is simple. The DNA samples would be collected from the claimants, and matched with the DNA samples in possession of the Trust. The results will be out in a few weeks and will be made available to the Trust, who will commence the payment within one or two weeks according to an insider who sought anonymity:

'The entire exercise is categorized into two, those who are alive and those who are dead. For claimants who are alive, it is easier to collect their DaNA samples. Those who are dead, we would have to collect their samples from close family relatives or from their next of kin, basically their fathers or their mothers or their siblings.'

Odiwo said they have collected DNA samples from 101 claimants. They are expecting 192 claimants from the TVF. He disclosed that there are other claimants, outside the TVF, who had submitted their samples before the DNA test exercise was suspended by a court action. On compensation, particularly to dead relatives: 'We are looking at making the payment of $175,000. For impairment, the same $175,000, though that would be left for the board to determine, and their decision would depend on the level of impairment we are talking about.'

Maisekili confirmed to Daily Sun: 'We are here (at the office) for the DNA test, and hopefully, we would submit our DNA samples.' He would not want to go back into the details of their disagreement as that would not add any value to their new understanding. But he nevertheless noted that the substitution of a member of the Trust, who did not carry them along, was responsible for their coming back to the dialogue table.

For the 192 members of the TVF: 'The exercise so far has been fair and transparent. We have total confidence in the DNA exercise. Before now we had a number of concerns and as part of gentleman's agreement, our demands seeking to substitute a member of the Board of Trustees has been met. Now, we are totally convinced that the board members are sincere and we ensure that we get justice.'

The transparency of the DNA process has given birth to a new leaf of hope for the claimants that those who qualify will get their compensation in tact. Alhaji Ibrahim Dangiwa, who lost his daughter, Maryam, to the epidemic told Daily Sun that he hopes to qualify for compensation: 'The pain of the death of our daughter is very much alive. I am sure that we will qualify for the compensation so that we will use it to support the rest of her siblings and family.'