Tuesday, Dec 09, 2008
Major pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has been accused of pressuring poor Third World parents into enrolling their children in experimental drug trials that have led to the deaths of at least 12 infants.
The company is currently testing an experimental pneumonia vaccine on children under the age of one in Argentina, Colombia and Panama. According to the Argentine Federation of Health Professionals (Feprosa), poor Argentinean parents have been “pressured and forced into signing consent forms.”
“In most cases these are underprivileged individuals, many of them unable to read or write, who are pressured into including their children,” said Juan Carlos Palomares of Fesprosa.
“This occurs without any type of state control [and] does not comply with minimum ethical requirements,” the federation said.
At least 12 Argentinean babies enrolled in the study have died in the past year.
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In response to be criticism, Glaxo said its strict safety protocols are monitored by an independent committee, and that no one is forced to participate in the program.
“Enrollment in the trial is on a voluntary basis and trial participants are free to withdraw at any time,” the company said.
But according to Julieta Ovejero, great aunt of one of the children who died, “A lot of people want to leave the protocol but aren’t allowed; they force them to continue under the threat that if they leave they won’t receive any other vaccine.”
The vaccine trial has also drawn accusations of corruption: The trials in the Argentinean province of Santiago del Estero were authorized under provincial Health Minister Juan Carlos Smith, brother of the lead researcher in the study.
Critics such as Ana Maria Marchese, a pediatrician at the Santiago del Estero children’s hospital where the study is taking place, accuse Glaxo of using Third World children as guinea pigs.
“Because they can’t experiment in Europe or the United States, they come to do it in third-world countries,” she said.