Medicine subsidised by France killed 2,000 patients
FRENCH politicians of both the right and left are facing severe embarrassment and legal recriminations with the forthcoming publication of an official report on what could become the worst health scandal in the country's history.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised "the most complete transparency" on how a drug which is now suspected to have killed up to 2,000 people was officially approved, and subsidised, for 33 years by the French health service.
Despite repeated warnings from scientists in France and abroad, the drug mediator was prescribed to five million French people, originally to fight diabetes and later as an slimming pill.
A report from the French health inspectorate, due in mid-January, will investigate why successive French health ministers failed to heed advice that the drug -- produced by the French pharmaceutical giant Servier -- was at best useless, and at worst highly dangerous.
Separate French press investigations have focused on an alleged campaign of intimidation by the Servier company to keep the drug on the market.
Servier, the second-largest French drugs company, founded 50 years ago by Jacques Servier (88), a French doctor, is known for its cult of secrecy and its excellent relations with French politicians. President Sarkozy himself once worked for the company as a lawyer during his brief legal career.
Mediator contains a substance called benfluorex, which has been alleged in a series of scientific investigations to attack the cardio-vascular system and, in particular, to damage the valves of the heart.
Approval was finally withdrawn after the publication of a study in April 2009 by a Breton lung specialist, Irene Frachon, which linked mediator to scores of patients with otherwise unexplained heart-valve problems.
In November this year, the agency which runs the finances of the French health service calculated that the drug was responsible for at least 500 premature deaths. Another study, leaked to the newspaper 'Le Figaro', put the death toll at between 1,000 and 2,000.
The French Health Minister, Xavier Bertrand, has promised that the investigation will examine why a string of his predecessors failed to respond to the warnings on mediator. His predecessors include himself.
Other health ministers who ignored the warning include Martine Aubry, now leader of the main opposition party, the Parti Socialiste, and Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres. Both say they have no recollection of the warnings. (© The Independent News Service)