PFIZER FLASHBACK: Pfizer sued by 30 Nigerian families for using children as human guinea pigs in illegal clinical trial
01/13/2023 // Ramon Tomey // Views

Back in 2001, 30 Nigerian families sued Pfizer in federal court over its illegal 1996 clinical trial in Nigeria's Kano state. The clinical trial, which was conducted on children without their parents' consent, killed 11 participants.

The Aug. 29, 2001 lawsuit filed in federal court in New York accused the drug giant of using the children as "human guinea pigs" during the clinical trial of the antibiotic Trovan in Kano. The plaintiffs argued that Pfizer violated the Nuremberg Code of 1947, the United Nations Human Rights Standards and other ethical guidelines. Moreover, they accused Pfizer of exposing the children to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." (Related: NEVER FORGET: Pfizer drug trial that killed 11 Nigerian children exposed Big Pharma's MURDEROUS experiments.)

According to the plaintiffs' attorney, Elaine Kusel, at least six families of children who died during or shortly after the experiment were among those suing. They sought unspecified punitive damages, alongside a court order barring Pfizer from conducting illegal experiments in the future. The plaintiffs also asked the court to mandate the company to shoulder the continuing medical care costs of the surviving children.

A Sept. 5, 2001 report by Science magazine explained the strategy utilized by the Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach law firm – which Kusel is a part of – to hold Pfizer accountable in its home state. According to the report, the New York-based pharmaceutical firm is liable under the 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). The ATCA allows foreign nationals to sue individuals and companies that have broken international laws on foreign soil in U.S. courts.


A judge initially dismissed the 2001 lawsuit, ruling that it did not meet the ATCA's criteria. Kusel subsequently challenged the lower court's ruling in a higher court. A federal appeals court heard the appeal and returned the suit to the lower court, asking the latter to re-consider whether the cases should be heard in the U.S. or in Nigeria.

Impact of Trovan disaster still felt in Kano 27 years on

The pharmaceutical company insisted that it had done nothing unethical during the Trovan clinical trial in Kano.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said the experiment in Nigeria conducted amid a meningitis outbreak "was sound from medical, scientific, regulatory and ethical standpoints." The clinical trial actually improved treatment in the affected area and may have saved lives, she added.

The Big Pharma giant released a statement in response to the charges on Aug. 30, 2001 – a day after they were filed. According to the statement, Pfizer is "proud of the way the study was conducted." Moreover, Pfizer emphasized that the "well-conceived and well-executed" study "saved lives."

The company defended that it had obtained prior consent from both the Nigerian government and the families of patients enrolled in the trial.

But according to Nigerian news outlet Premium Times, the repercussions of the disastrous Trovan experiment still haunt Kano 27 years on. Residents still don't trust medical treatments, including the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine.

Abubakar Salisu, a resident of the Gwagwarwa suburb in Kano, told the Premium Times that he will never take the COVID-19 vaccine and cannot advise anyone to accept it. "Since that incident of paralysis and deaths of children [back in 1996], I can never trust any vaccines or medicine from Europe."

Aliyu Musa, a resident of the Unguwa Uku neighborhood, said some residents find it hard to move on from the Pfizer incident.

"I'm one of those yet to take the COVID-19 vaccine and it will remain like that," he commented. "My family and I will not take the vaccine because we don't trust the producers."

A taxi driver in Kano who introduced himself as Ahmed said he feels personal anger because his family was directly affected by the Pfizer disaster.

"As long as it's a vaccine or medicine from the Westerners, I will not accept it," he firmly said. "They cannot be trusted."

Watch Tony Lin explain the disastrous Trovan clinical trials in Nigeria.

This video is from the What is happening channel on

More related stories:

NEVER FORGET: Pfizer agreed to settle lawsuit after jury awarded $43M to Texas woman whose liver was destroyed by Rezulin.

NEVER FORGET: In 1994, Pfizer paid $20 million after LYING about defective heart valve that killed hundreds.

NEVER FORGET: Pfizer used "dirty tricks" to avoid massive payout to Nigeria, 2009 WikiLeaks cables reveal.

NEVER FORGET: Pfizer sued for $7B over illegal drug trials on kids.

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