By Emmanuel Elebeke & Ifeanyi Okotie
ZYLORIC may have been prescribed to many patients by doctors, but the drug is not everybody’s friend. If you are in doubt, ask one of its victims -Mr Charles Oben. Like the petal of a flower dying before its full blossom, Oben has visited the land of the dead and lost his skin beyond recognition.
But thanks to the rapid response of a team of foreign doctors in United Kingdom, who rattled the disastrous effects of the drug, Oben is still alive today.
You would need to see what Charles Oben looked like at the beginning and peak of the illness, compared to what he looks like during a recent visit to Vanguard’s Corporate Headquarters in Apapa.
During the visit, Mr. Oben narrated his ordeal after innocently taking the drug allegedly manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, GSK.
Narrating his experience, Mr. Oben said “It all started two years ago, after I took two pills of Zyloric drug, a product of GSK. ‘This was just between two-four months that I secured a new job with United Bank Africa, UBA, as the Human Resources Manager of the company.’’
Following the reaction generated by the drug, he had to undergo a cornea transplant which was recommended by the doctors. He eventually lost his tear glands in the process and is now placed on permanent steroids (lubrication of eyes).
Oben’s plight necessitated his decision to drag the company to an Ikeja High Court. In the suit, he is seeking for a compensation from GSK as well as an order of the court to immediately withdrawal Zyloric from national and international markets, to forestall further endangering peoples’ lives.
Tracing the genesis of his travails, Oben said it all started in Burkina Faso, where he had gone to work on secondment from UBA in Lagos, Nigeria.
While at Ouagadougou, Oben said his personal physician prescribed Zyloric to him as a drug that can help control the uric acid level in his lungs. Uric acid creates a condition that predisposes a person to joint pains.
“I was not sick before the prescription. I just went for a medical check up with my cardiologist in Burkina Faso. He ran series of tests and said my uric acid was a little high and prescribed Zyloric (known as Allopurinol in medical terms) to check it,’’ Oben said.
Following the doctor’s prescription, Oben alleged that he bought the drug from a pharmacist in Burkina Faso. But unfortunately for him, rather than getting a reprieve from two days of ingesting the drugs, he found himself in trouble.
“It started with severe peeling of my skin. Like a snake, I began shedding the skin on my hands, feet and back. Shortly, a red rash started spreading across the trunk of my body. Initially, I was taken to Pisam Hospital, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for urgent medical attention.
But when the erosion of my skin could no longer be handled at that level, I was flown in an air ambulance to the Wellington Hospital in the United Kingdom where specialists eventually diagnosed me of Stevens-Johnson syndrome,” he explained.
Stevens-Johnson disease, is a very rare condition where cells in the body die and cause the epidermis – top layer of the skin – to separate from the dermis (inner layer of the skin.). The disease is said to be life threatening and mainly caused by medications and certain infections.
Considering the severity of his condition, Oben said he was promptly admitted and treated after series of blood tests on his kidney, liver and other vital organs.
According to him, while his treatment continued, his problem was compounded when he was sacked by his employer, on account of his deteriorating health and long absence from work.
Following his dwindling economic fortune, Oben said he was forced to return to Nigeria to seek solution to his health woes.
The worst according to him occurred, when he lost his sight in January 2010. For this, Oben reported at Premiere Eye Centre, Lagos, from where he was again referred to Wellington Hospital, UK.
Apart from losing his tears, Oben said he is worried that part of the medications he takes may be having adverse effects on his Kidney.
GSK legal manager GSK, Uchenna Uwechia, was quoted as saying that GSK Nigeria as a Nigerian pharmaceutical company licensed by the National Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, to produce drugs in Nigeria, does not sell or manufacture drugs in Burkina Faso and had never produced Zyloric.
He was also quoted as saying that he had not seen the drug before. According to him, Zyloric is not sold in Nigeria and wondered why GSK Nigeria should be liable.
GSK in the report also claimed that it had discharged its obligations by informing the public of the risks associated with the drug. But Oben claimed that the patients’ leaflets meant for African countries are not comprehensive compared to those in UK and USA.
In a another defence, the company claimed that “though the Zyloric trade mark was formerly owned by GlaxoGroup Limited, a member of the GSK Group, the said trademark was assigned to Aspen Global Incorporated on June 30, 2008. Consequently thereafter, the Zyloric drug was manufactured and sold under the authority of Aspen Global Incorporated.
The company is also contesting the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case since the incident took place in Burkina Faso. The Vaccines Representative of the company in Lagos, Olushola Amosun when contacted by Vanguard told this reporter that he should find a better thing to do.
On why he is challenging the case in Nigeria, Oben said ‘’When I came to Nigeria, I wrote to GSK in UK and the legal Director GSK Nigeria said I should refer the matter to GSK Nigeria.
From the look of things, you do not know something until it happens. Efforts by Vanguard Features, VF to get the views of GSK’s Medical Director, Dr. Bode Adesoji failed, as he declined to respond to both email and text messages to his mobile phone.
Meanwhile, the Federal High Court sitting at Ikeja, Lagos will on October 27, 2011, rule on an application on whether the court has jurisdiction to entertain the N400 million damage suit instituted by a plaintiff, Mr. Oben against GSK Nigeria Limited.