Why Pfizer Is Emerging as the Good Guy in Drug Tests That Killed 11 Children

Last Updated May 4, 2010 10:52 AM EDT

None of the victims of Pfizer (PFE)'s Trovan experiment in Nigeria -- in which 11 children died and 200 were injured -- have received their share of $35 million in compensation that the company agreed to pay them back in July 2009. Nigerian officials will now hire a U.S. company to conduct DNA tests on 217 Trovan claimants who have thus far failed to prove they were the actual patients harmed in the 1996 meningitis tests. Trovan was later banned in the U.S. and Europe.

Even though the Trovan debacle tarred Pfizer's name -- it may have inspired the book and movie The Constant Gardener -- it's Pfizer that is now emerging as the good guy. Nigerian officials, who earmarked a further $40 million in settlement money for their own healthcare projects, have repeatedly failed to figure out which patients should get the money even though they've had 14 years to do so.

It's a reminder to managers that even when you screw up royally, your company's brand can still retain its dignity as long as you play it straight when fixing the mess. And the Trovan settlement is a mess: About 600 people filed forms demanding compensation even though only 200 people were actually part of the test. In November, Pfizer demanded the DNA of claimants after it emerged that Nigerian officials had lost their list of victims. Various other Nigerian "officials" have been maneuvering for a slice of the payout.

The chairman of the board of trustees of the Meningitis Trust Fund in Kano , Nigeria, told The Daily Sun on Monday:

  • none of the claimants or applicants whose claim forms are in had met payment requirements.
  • none of the $35 million meant for compensation is in the custody of the board.
  • the trust fund is arguing that any "outstanding" sum of money should not be returned to Pfizer.
To recap: having failed to identify a single individual Nigerian who should receive a penny of the $35 million, the trust fund is arguing that it should nonetheless keep any money left over if victims can't be found. No wonder Pfizer wants to see DNA tests before it writes that check.

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