Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The reality behind The Constant Gardener

I saw The Constant Gardener earlier in the year, and came out of it with the sick feeling that while the specifics of the movie were fictional, the general story it was trying to tell - of multinational pharmaceutical companies running unauthorised drug trials on the poor in third world nations, and covering their tracks with a web of corruption and murder - was basically true. Unfortunately, it seems I was right:

A PANEL of Nigerian medical experts has concluded that Pfizer violated international law during a 1996 epidemic by testing an unapproved drug on children with brain infections.

That finding is detailed in a lengthy Nigerian Government report that has remained unreleased for five years, despite inquiries from the children's lawyers and from the media. The Washington Post recently obtained a copy of the confidential report, which is attracting congressional interest. It was provided by a source who asked to remain anonymous because of personal safety concerns.

The report concludes that Pfizer never obtained authorisation from the Nigerian Government to give the unproven drug to nearly 100 children and infants. Pfizer selected the patients at a field hospital in the city of Kano, where the children had been taken to be treated for an often deadly strain of meningitis. At the time, Medicins Sans Frontieres was dispensing approved antibiotics at the hospital.

Pfizer's experiment was "an illegal trial of an unregistered drug", the Nigerian panel concluded, and a "clear case of exploitation of the ignorant".

(Emphasis added)

Eleven children died during the trial, and others suffered meningitis-related side-effects as a consequence of being left on the experimental drug rather than being treated by proven methods. The original Washington Post story (dating from 2000) says that this "could be considered murder". But rather than being prosecuted, Pfizer will simply be asked to apologise. Which I'm sure will really discourage them from pulling the same stunt in the future.

[Hat tip: Lenin's Tomb]


I was at an industry schmooze last year when the subject of the book came up, as the film was just about set for international release. Apropos of nothing the very nice guy from Pfizer said they knew it was based loosely on them and Head Office were treating the film as highly sensitive.

Le Carre used the facts to tell an otherwise relatively mundane story about innocence and faith.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/10/2006 03:10:00 PM