An important new report from the Amsterdam-based NGO Wemos describes how major multinational drug companies are continuing conduct unethical experiments on vulnerable populations including children and the mentally ill in South Africa and other developing countries, putting both their health and their human rights at risk.
I reported on unethical trials like these in South Africa for my book The Body Hunters. The drug industry’s stampede into developing countries like South Africa to conduct their experiments continues. With a high degree of inequality in many of these countries, there’s a great medical infrastructure in place to cater to the rich, and plenty of poor people upon which to wield it to conduct experiments. The experiments they conduct there often have little to do with the public health priorities of the local communities, mind you. Rather, the trials–which, as Wemos ably shows, endanger the health of enrolled subjects–are aimed at generating data to extend patents on drugs or market new ones in the major US and European markets. It’s the very definition of exploitation.
It’s not easy to report on these trials. Untangling the science, the ethics, and the regulatory hurdles is tricky, and it’s all too easy to sensationalize. Wemos gets it right. It’s a great report. Check it out here.
In the end, I had to Skype in to this year’s World Conference of Science Journalists conference in Doha, Qatar, and deliver my presentation on the issue of drug trials in developing countries via YouTube video. (You can check it out here.) Here’s what the Guardian newspaper had to say about it. “Ethics left behind as drug trials soar in developing countries,” The Guardian, July 4, 2011.
I had a great time reviewing Martin Scorcese’s horror flick “Shutter Island” for The Lancet. The film takes place in a hospital for the criminally insane, off the coast of Boston, and is actually rooted in a fascinating, and mostly hidden, history. Check out the review here and at The Lancet, here.
Just did several interviews for the Spanish press, and received positive reviews on the Spanish edition of The Body Hunters from El Pais, Cambio 16, and Marie Claire magazine. Nice!
The Spanish edition of The Body Hunters (Cazadores de Cuerpos) recently came out and is getting some good press in Spain. To wit: a long review (and five stars!) in Publico. Check it out here.
The French-language edition of my book, The Body Hunters, has been awarded the 2008 Prescrire prize for books on medicine and pharmaceuticals! Every year, the nonprofit journal Prescrire awards a handful of books among the many it reviews for the prize. My understanding is that The Body Hunters was one among five chosen from around 300 titles. Merci!
Also, the German newspaper Der Spiegel ran a nice commentary about the German-language edition of The Body Hunters. They’re recommending the book on their website. Check it out here.
ABCNews.com featured a story on a problematic Glaxo clinical trial in Argentina (and quotes me a few times,badly–the last time I do a phone interview for a print piece?!). The allegation is coercion and lack of informed consent. The piece doesn’tpoint out one of the major factors of the story, which is that thevaccine GSK was testing may well be aimed at preventing relativelytrivial conditions such as ear infections, but was tested onimpoverished Argentinian kids with pneumonia. That’s not uncommon–Idescribe a similar trial in my book, aimed at a drug for inconvenientcases of diarrhea in the West but tested on malnourished, HIV-positivechildren in Zambia. Check out the ABC story here
Some like to say that people have “right” to participate in clinical trials. People have a right to proven care, not to experiments. Trials are risky for subjects, which is often the whole point of doing the trial. A new review shows the extent.
In a survey of 739 international drug trials published between 1996 and 2002, University of Nottingham researchers found that 71 percent reported adverse events, with 20 percent reporting serious adverse events. Nearly 40 percent reported adverse drug reactions, with 11 percent reporting severe adverse drug reactions. Six were terminated early because of drug toxicity; subjects died in 11 percent of the trials. In two of those trials, the deaths could be attributed to the experimental drug.
And these, dear readers, were trials that might have been expected to minimize risks, for the subjects involved were all children.
See more here.
Today’s TIME magazine ran a feature on the clinical trials boom in India. It’s a good one, and not only because it quotes me at both the top and bottom of the piece! Check it out here.
My critical review of Lara Santoro’s book on international health journalism appears in The Lancet sometime this month. Link will be forthcoming. In other news from The Lancet, a new study found that 6 weeks of daily nevirapine given to the breast-fed babies of HIV-positive mothers reduced the babies’ risk of getting the virus from their moms by 15%…but six months later, as many were infected as controls.
The reason to even consider giving nevirapine (which has adverse effects in over 30 percent of infants and also can complicate AIDS therapy if it becomes necessary later on) to these babies is because their families lack access to safe drinking water with which to feed them, and so must be fed mothers’ milk despite its contamination with HIV virus. Some of the authors say, it’s a terrible situation, but the drug kind of works, a little bit, so let’s do it, it is better than nothing.
But why is it that it is possible to go to rural and impoverished places and provide tiny little babies with sick mothers pricey, sophisticated foreign-made pills EVERY DAY for weeks on end….and NOT possible to clean up the water?
In a highly unusual move, some of the study’s own authors asked the very same question. Check it out here.