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Families of Nigerian drug trial victims get payouts

Four Nigerian families who lost children in a 1996 meningitis drug trial are the first to get their compensation payouts.

Pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, which had tested the experimental drug, a new antibiotic, said it was “pleased” that payments were finally being made under a settlement reached two years ago.

Four families were last week paid £107,000 each from a £45 million fund created under the settlement. The families had DNA evidence proving they were related to children who died during the trial.

“I had given up over the incident,” said Hauwa Umar, who lost a child. “Though I still mourn my child, I thank God for this day,” she told Nigeria’s The Nation.

"The compensation cannot replace my loss, but will only cushion the hardship the drug trial caused me and my family," she added.

The controversial new drug, Trovan, was trialled in Nigeria’s northern state of Kano in 1996 when the area was hit by Africa's worst ever meningitis epidemic.

A hundred children were given an experimental oral antibiotic called Trovan, while another hundred were given an older antibiotic, ceftriaxone to compare the results with. Five children died on Trovan and six on ceftriaxone.

It was claimed during the 15 year long legal battle that Pfizer did not have parents’ official permission to use an experimental drug on their children. It was also alleged that some were given a dose lower than recommended, which left many children with brain damage, blindness, deafness, paralysis or slurred speech.

Pfizer said that it was the disease, meningitis and not its antibiotic that led to the children’s deaths and harmed the others. But in 2009 it made an out-of-court agreement with the Kano state government worth £45 million.

But one parent who lost a daughter in the trial said the process was still unclear and he had no idea when he would receive money.

"I talked to my attorney this week," said the man, who did not wish to be named for legal reasons. "They are still in contact with Pfizer as to when I will get paid. We are just crossing our fingers."

He added: "We are fed up with this case. Our children are dead and some are maimed. We want to end this matter now, but some people are being opportunist for riches."

Every year, epidemics sweep Africa’s arid ‘meningitis belt’ on dust-filled winds during the dry season, and in 1996 more than 12,000 Africans died of meningitis.

Hayley attribution