Monday, May 08, 2006

When it is Necessary to Go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

"I don't really know myself [why the report was never released]...I did my job as a civil servant"--Dr Abdulsalami Nasidi- a senior government official and the head of the team that probed the Pfizer's illegal clinical trial in Kano.

This is the concluding part of an earlier post: Did Pfizer Use Nigerian Children as Guinea Pigs?

When I discussed suspended global AIDS funds and the incompetence of some Nigerian healthcare managers, I didn’t realize more bombshells would drop- first the was Julius Berger's unethical drug policy and now, Pfizer criminal clinical trial.

Those in doubt of Pfizer’s wrong step should read Dr Peter Ross’s article on The Huffington’s Post. Dr Ross was the former Vice President for Pfizer, he became well known in 2004 ‘when he emerged as the first drug company executive to speak out in favor of reimportation of drugs’, according to his biography on the site.

As I concluded in the earlier post, the ‘unkindest cut’ came from the Nigerian officials who investigated and found that Pfizer seriously contravened and acted in ways that was contrary to medical standards and regulations but kept quiet. Dr Abdulsalami Nasidi, a senior health official was surely one of those that inflicted those cut.

Dr Abdulsalami Nasidi appears to have his fingerprints and handwritings on the Pfizer blunder. Dr Nasidi was the head of the investigative team that examined the Pfizer clinical trial and found that the “experiment violated Nigerian law, the international Declaration of Helsinki that governs ethical medical research and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child” quoting the statement on Washington Post that first broke the news.

"I don't really know myself why the report was never released...I did my job as a civil servant," said Dr Nasidi in a telephone interview with the Washington Post.

Dr Nasidi is a senior civil servant, a health professional, a professor (he's an academic in the health/medical field, I’m not sure if he’s a physician though), and as the Director of Special project in the Nigerian Federal health Ministry, he owes Nigerians an apology for his unprofessional and lackadaisical statement and attitude.

It was wrong for him to have sat on his butt and not ensure that the report got the attention it deserved. If he really believes in what he professes, and values his reputation, he would have gone above and beyond what a low cadre official would have done- which is to do nothing. He knew his report was 'gathering dust on a shelf' somewhere, yet he kept quiet knowing fully well that many children were violated and lives lost because of the trial. I wonder how he was able to sleep at night.

That is not all, Dr Nasidi is also associated with the administrative blunder that led to the freezing of the AIDS fund reported earlier on this blog; as the head of a national health task force on HIV/AIDS, he is part of the inner caucus of the Nigerian Health Ministry and definitely a member of the team that applied for, and monitors the AIDS grants, one of which got suspended in April this year. This is an excerpt of Dr Nasidi’s statement to the BBC on HIV/AIDS treatment in Nigeria:
“Those that are already receiving the treatment that were paying that token money will just be getting the drugs free of charge. [For new patients] all the drugs will also be given to them free of charge."
It is interesting that some of the reasons given for suspending the AIDS fund is that the “country [Nigeria] failed to meet targets on drug access and transparency”. In other words, the financiers have no confidence in the data presented by Dr Nasidi and his team on the number of Nigerians who have access to HIV/AIDS medications/treatment. Secondly, the financier found the accounting system of the task force fuzzy and dubious.

Attitude like Dr Nasidi’s will get Nigeria nothing but failure upon failure as the nation strives to get out of the quagmire. What can get Nigeria going is for government officials to not be mere 'civil servants' and 'just do their jobs'. Nigeria needs passionate and committed minds to run its affairs; not some Nasidis that would be contended to just sit on their butts and 'mark time at work’ on the tax-payers’ money, and gallivant all over the world attending meaningless conferences and seminars! No wonder nothing works in Nigeria!

It is convenient to heap all the blame on Dr Nasidi, but because I'm a Nigerian and understands the Nigerian system is fraught with limitations that are uncommonly encountered elsewhere, I can relate to the man's circumstances and probably why he kept mute. But regardless of his circumstance, he could have done better.

What does it take to have Nigerian whistle-blowers like Dr Peter Ross (the former Vice President for Pfizer)? It is dificult. Even in the United states, it stops being a tea party the moment one crosses the line and start 'whistling'. But if not for these few conscientious souls, many great injustice and evil would never have made the limelight.

It takes commitment, courage, passion, and a deeper understanding of the concept of 'common good'. It takes having loving families and loyal circles of friends. Most importantly, it takes a society that appreciates honesty and the rule of law.

To some degree, these are issues that have eluded Nigeria right from its birth, and which the nation will grapple with for many years to come. The extent to which Nigeria can muster and inculcate these attributes into the collective psyche of its citizens will determine, to a larger extent, its success as a progressive nation.