Thursday, December 22, 2005

Testing Drugs on India's Poor

SCOTT CARNEY, WIRED - India has been the focus of medical research since the time when sunburned men with pith helmets and degrees from prestigious European medical schools came to catalog tropical illnesses. The days of the Raj are long gone, but multinational corporations are riding high on the trend toward globalization by taking advantage of India's educated work force and deep poverty to turn South Asia into the world's largest clinical-testing petri dish. The sudden influx of drug companies to India resembles the gold rush frontier, according to Sean Philpott, managing editor of The American Journal of Bioethics.

"Not only are research costs low, but there is a skilled work force to conduct the trials," he said. In the rush to reap profits, Philpott cautions that drug companies may not be sensitive to how poverty can undermine the spirit of informed consent. "Individuals who participate in Indian clinical trials usually won't be educated. Offering $100 may be undue enticement; they may not even realize that they are being coerced," he said...

Also, critics say study volunteers may be taking risks without the potential for reward. Since many pharmaceutical companies are developing the drugs for markets in industrialized nations, it is unlikely that India's poor will have access to most of the new medicine.

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