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Alternative dispute resolution: The Pfizer example

In a nation like Nigeria, fraught with simmering tension, distrust among its citizens and numerous crises and criminal cases, law courts have case files piled high to the roofs and police de-tention cells bursting at their seams.

Proof of this can be seen in recent estimates that state that 34,000 out of the 42,000 inmates in prisons in Nigeria are still awaiting trial while numerous cases are pending in law courts. This therefore means that as a country, we still have not explored the possibilities and are yet to fully understand the merits of al-ternative dispute resolution (ADR).

ADR (also known as external dispute resolution) has long been a go-to method for dispute resolution when disagreeing parties decide to come to an agreement short of litiga-tion. Despite historic resistance to ADR by many popular parties and their advocates, it has continued to gain widespread ac-ceptance among both the general public and the legal profession in recent years. In some parts of the world, courts now require some parties to resort to ADR of some type, usu-ally mediation, before per-mitting the parties' cases to be tried.

A case that readily comes to mind as an in-stance of the application of ADR in Nigeria is the Pfizer (Trovan)/Kano State litigation of 1996. This is an exemplary illustration of how ADR can go a long way in quench-ing fires and resulting in a mutual agreement beneficial for all.

Pfizer Inc. came into Nigeria in 1996 during the most serious cerebral spinal meningitis epi-demic ever recorded in Nigeria to try and alleviate the symptoms as well as mitigate the further spread of the disease.

The epi-demic, which took almost 12,000 lives over a six-month  period, also affected close to 110,000 people and constituted a severe public health crisis never before seen in Nige-ria.

During the crisis, Pfizer proposed to conduct a Trovan clinical trial in Nigeria with the aim of in-troducing a form of antibi-otic that could be used effectively to treat epidemic meningococcal meningitis, including in children. Before conducting the Trovan study in Kano, Pfizer claimed it sought and obtained all necessary approvals from relevant Federal and State Government agencies in Nigeria and in the USA.

The Federal Government accused Pfizer Inc of con-ducting an illegal drug trial which resulted in the death or maiming of the trial par-ticipants and proceeded on suing the pharmaceutical giant.

The Kano State Government also followed suit. Pfizer Inc denied all accusations, claiming it obtained all relevant approvals and conducted the study in strict compliance with   international best practices. The clinical study was the subject of over six court cases in Lagos, Abuja and Kano.

The litigation dragged on for several years with none of the cases getting to substantive trial. After a long wait and millions of dollars spent in litigation proceedings, it became obvious to both parties that other methods to get justice needed to be employed.

On July 30, 2009, Pfizer and the Kano State gov-ernment chose to settle out of court and entered into a $75million settlement agreement, pursuant to which Kano State agreed to dismiss the civil and criminal actions.

Pfizer in turn agreed to establish a healthcare/meningitis fund with an aggregate amount of $35 million from which participants in the 1996 study can receive financial support; the amount of $30 million within a two-year period to fund various healthcare initiatives chosen by the Kano State government for the benefit of the people of the state; and a $10 million reimbursement of all legal costs incurred by Kano State in connection with the litigation. The deal was satisfactory to all lit-igants and both parties proceeded on actualising the terms of the settlement agreement.

As contained in the settlement agreement, the Kano State government was consequently given $30 million to fund the construction of a world class 200-bed diagnostic disease control centre. This is one of the many healthcare initiatives that the Kano State govern-ment has embarked upon with the funds that Pfizer had made available.

The medical facility, which has recently been com-pleted and is expected to be officially opened soon, has been widely touted as one of the best in the West Africa subregion. It boasts of a diagnostic centre, disease control centre, public health laboratory, micro biological refer-ence laboratory, and hous-ing for the centre’s staff in addition to other world class amenities.

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