Trovan Saga: Not Yet Uhuru? —Yaya S. Ibrahim


I read Malik Mohammed’s article titled “Brila FM, Trovan, Technology and all that…” with keen interest. He is well entitled to his celebration of the restoration of sanity to what has become the Trovan Trial Saga. Maybe he should tarry a little before taking to the dance floor, because the truth is that the dust hasn’t completely settled on the issue.

We know as a matter of fact that the Board of Trustees continues its analysis of claims to identify additional persons qualified to receive compensation from the Healthcare/Meningitis Trust Fund has already announced that so far, 14 individuals – out of 547 applicants – have been successfully identified as having passed the DNA test. Four out of the 14 have already been compensated to the tune of $175,000 each (about N26, 250,000 per beneficiary) on the strength of their DNA test-validated claims that they are next-of-kin to persons who did indeed participated in the 1996 Trovan study. The process of compensating the 10 other persons has reportedly commenced. We also know that DNA is only one of the various criteria for establishing proof of participation in the 1996 study.

The Board also took account of identification cards, physical appearance, medical records, photographs from the 1996 clinical trials and whether a claimant’s initials, age, and gender match those on record. In addition, facial resemblance to photographs in file was considered together with possession of relevant verification materials or objects such as the Trovan trials pink card issued to participants in 1996.

What this means is that anyone staking a claim to compensation is expected to pass the DNA and also meet these other criteria. The 14 claimants so far confirmed passed the scientifically verifiable process. The sad story, however, is that there remains some spanner in the wheel, the type that should dampen the mood of Malik Mohammed and all those craving for a speedy conclusion to the long-drawn saga.

Remember that last year, an organization known as Trovan Victims Foundation (TVF) got a court injunction to prevent the Board from processing DNA test results on the first 355 claimants to the Fund.

This resulted in a long delay of the exercise until earlier this year when the injunction was lifted and the Board was able to continue its work.It appears – again – that TVF may be attempting to frustrate the Board’s work to compensate valid claimants. This time around, one hears that the organization is reversing itself on the DNA testing procedure. Interestingly, however, six members of this group passed the DNA test. The word in town is that the TVF is not satisfied with having only six of its members successful. They want money to go round all their members as if this was a jamboree.

It is difficult to determine whose agenda the TVF is pursuing, considering that the group agreed that the Board’s identity verification process was fair, and all 192 TVF members submitted saliva samples for DNA testing. In fact, right from the beginning, the TVF’s legal actions have always smacked of sabotage.

Why would the organization now think of discrediting a process it endorsed and was a part of? Some observers have suggested that its negative position on the process is as a result of the disqualification of the majority of persons it presented for the testing process. That sounds like sour grapes!

And talking about stories doing the rounds in Kano, is it true that members of the TVF, including their leader Alhaji Mustapha Maisikeli, already have been each compensated $5,000 (US) before they agreed to cooperate with the process? Is it true that, in signing the releases, the TVF members agreed that they are not entitled to any additional money and promised to abide by the Board’s decision as to the use of DNA testing to determine compensation?

Does its present opposition to the process not amount to reneging on an agreement that it has entered into? Isn’t there a word like honour in their dictionary? Whatever its answers are to these posers, it is clear that TVF wants to undermine the Board, which has taken steps to make the people of Kano aware of its work and educate them on the verification process. As persons in the Kano area will attest to, there have been huge efforts in the area of public awareness. These have included massive media publicity. I live in Kano and have been following these developments with interest.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves that it has been more than 15 years since the Trovan clinical study took place.

Many of the people involved have since moved on – relocation, deaths to some who managed to survive the 1996 epidemic, etc. There is also the fact that many of the people who travelled to Kano’s Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH) in 1996 were from outside Kano State, and mostly from rural areas. They would not know about the settlement agreement without the kind of widespread publicity which the Board has taken care to provide.

Indeed, in spite of such publicity, it is totally conceivable that many would still be left out for a variety of reasons, including misconceptions about DNA testing which some believe is invasive of their privacy or even injurious. It is the same way in which people refuse to take part in immunization. As one of those involved in National Community Mobilization towards Universal Child Immunization (UCI) 1990, I can recall the difficulty of persuading populations in rural communities to make their infants and children available for vaccination. Roles were identified for traditional rulers, religious leaders, artistes, social groups, including women’s groups, professional groups, etc.

In the end, not all of these efforts paid off as expected. Similarly, despite the best efforts of many prominent Nigerians, including our revered father, the Emir of Kano, large numbers of participants in the Trovan trial may not be found. This is not to discountenance Malik Mohammed’s valid point about some valid claimants refusing to come forward on account of their religious belief that Allah gives and Allah takes and that one shouldn’t be seen to be profiting from ‘blood money’.

For Allah’s sake, let those who have been scientifically verified come forward and collect their compensation while the Board sorts out other issues connected with the life-changing settlement process. Enough of the TVF’s antics!

•Yaya is a development worker based in Kano.

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