Ralph Fiennes plays an English diplomat who is sent to work in Kenya, Africa. His wife, played by Rachel Weisz is a human rights activist and determined campaigner for justice... murdered when she stumbles quite accidentally upon a political scandal and decides to make it her mission to bring this to light.
It’s the story of The Constant Gardener – a film that combines the adventure chase format with some uncomfortable questions about western companies operating in Africa.
The film begins when a large pharmaceutical company is found to be testing a new drug for people suffering from tuberculosis. Using the most vulnerable communities in Kenya as test subjects, it follows a scandal to the highest levels of the British government when side effects and consent are ignored and Fiennes wife, a dedicated health worker is murdered because of what she knows.
Filmed largely within the slums of Kibera and Loiyangalali, the communities where she works are desperate for medical care and vulnerable within their society - making them easy prey to big corporates like the pharmaceutical giant featuring in the story. It is suggested that the government of Kenya would have been bribed in order to agree to these trials. The story highlights that this type of testing can be beneficial to drugs companies as it saves them time developing a secure formula for a drug early on, they can simply fly the drug overseas, test it, manipulate the findings of the trials (by excluding those who have suffered negative side effects) and sell the drug on to the Western world at a later stage when the testing is complete.
These huge and powerful organisations are highly unlikely to face legal action from those trialling the medication as these people can often not afford lawyers, are less likely to given an understanding of their rights and are deemed as easily expendable.
The Constant Gardener focuses on how the courage and determination of a number of people to uncover the truth and publicise these immoral and illegal drugs trials can raise awareness of the sacrifices made for our medication in the West.
The plot isn’t directly based on a true story... but derives its message from a number of similar real-life cases of pharmaceutical companies trialling products on people living in the third world. In one case in 1996, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer apparently gave children in Nigeria a new and untested drug called ‘Trovan’ which aimed to treat meningitis when the disease quickly became wide-spread in that part of the continent. Allegations were made that these children suffered from long-term joint pain believed to have been a result of the drug they were given - which were swiftly denied.
Interights are one organisation that works to protect the importance of human rights by strengthening partnerships and transparency in regional and legal entities across the globe – making human rights accessible in developing countries where they are often overlooked. You can also support Transparency International who work to tackle corruption across the globe by making governments and businesses more open, monitor resource trade and advocate for greater accountability. The Constant Gardener was released in 2005 and is available on DVD.