Scientific Progress Goes Boink

And it happens again! The Guardian reports that a promising new meningitis vaccine just out of clinical trials could save thousands of lives in sub-Saharan Africa; developed by a US-based nonprofit funded by (among others) Bill Gates, it will be affordably priced. Good news? Sure, but let’s not forget that just two days ago, the same paper reported that Nigeria is suing Pfizer for illegally conducted meningitis tests which killed 11 children in 1996.

Pfizer’s drug, which was soon to be pulled by the FDA due to concerns of liver damage, had never previously been given to children at any dosage. The Nigerian government had given the company permission to distribute a different, proven drug, but half the children were instead given the experimental treatment. Pfizer, meanwhile, alleges they did nothing wrong by failing to inform local authorities because they had obtained “verbal consent” from each parent. (In response to this case, a law was passed in the US to better regulate overseas drug tests, but it expired last year.) Nigeria is suing the company for the cost of treating the victims, and for the damages caused by the suspicion this has raised of western medicine, which has led to widespread refusal of polio vaccination in the north of the country.

I’ve commented on this before, and not surprisingly, nothing’s changed, blockbuster movies and novels on the topic notwithstanding. We’re all in this together, folks. But not everybody seems to know it, and if I lived in a Nigerian village and some white guy wanted to give my kid an injection, I might just opt out as well.

Update: I forgot to mention that this has been observed outside Africa as well, such as in this incident of parents in Pakistan refusing polio vaccinations. In related news, Novartis is trying to stop India from applying its patent laws. Lovely.