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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19595

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Umanadh JBS
Driven by poverty, AP women turn ‘guinea pigs’
The Deccan Herald 2011 Jun 19


Non-vegetarian food every day and payment in thousands on way home were the appeasements that led 25 women of Pidiguralla town in coastal Guntur district to become volunteers for a clinical trial for breast cancer.

Full text:

After a three-month sojourn at a posh hotel in Hyderabad, enjoying old Telugu movies and no burden of hard labour, these women are now repenting that they had to pay a huge price for the luxuries offered by the multi-national pharma companies.

Women quarry and clamine workers of Adarshanagar and Lenin Nagar of Piduguralla, who were made to take trial doses of drugs after each blood sale, are now suffering from a series of diseases, including chest and joint pain.

The historic town of Piduguralla is popular as the gateway of erstwhile Palnadu region known for its fierce warriors and red hot chilies. But poverty in the arid region had driven even its women to become guinea pigs for clinical trials.

The women in the age group of 25 to 45 years were not aware of what drugs were given to them and opted to give blood in exchange of cash and became volunteers for a clinical trial. They were paid amounts ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 0,000 depending on the number of doses of drug they were ready to consume.

Dhanalakshmi (30), who was a dancer, took up work in a stone crushing unit in Piduguralla after the society ostracised her. “My youngest son has congenital heart disease and I needed money for his treatment. I attended the selection round at the Miyapur-based firm and I received Rs 9,000. But the injections made me weak, and I am suffering from chest pain, body ache and nausea,” Dhanalakshmi says.

While Ademma (55) traveled to Hyderabad where she was made to take tablets.
“When I complained about giddiness, I was asked to go home and return only after gaining weight. Now I am not in a position to attend even to the routine household work,” Ademma rues. The story of 35-year-old Jakka Kumari is no different. Jakka Kumari managed to earn Rs 2,000 for the two visits she made to the clinic, but fell prey to many diseases.

Luring victims

The company brokers have spread a network to lure more women and they even accorded a warm reception to them at the railway station.

The Director of Medical and Health (DMHO) Dr Gopi Naik and Jayaramaulu, municipal commissioner of Piduguralla said: “It is illegal to test drugs directly on human beings.

We have started a probe into the incident.” Meanwhile, the investigation had driven brokers like Kommu Karunamma, Karimullah and other agents of the companies go underground. When contacted an official of Axis labs confessed to have roped in one woman from Piduguralla for the trial.

“It is not a clinical trial of any new drug but only a a routine bioequivalence study of a drug that is already in the market by another company,” he claimed and refused to specify the name of the drug or the pharma company. The government action came after a complaint filed by the victims with the State Human Rights Commission, which took up the case suo-moto and directed the health authorities to file a report by July 18 on the status of clinical trials in the state.

The SHRC observed that since trials of new drugs are usually done on guinea pigs or rats, the pharmacy company’s action can be considered a basic violation of human rights.
Meanwhile, medical and paramedical personnel were sent to the colonies for a door-to-door survey so as to send the needy to the government general hospital in Guntur.


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A small group known as Healthy Skepticism; formerly the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing) has consistently and insistently drawn the attention of producers to promotional malpractice, calling for (and often securing) correction. These organisations [Healthy Skepticism, Médecins Sans Frontières and Health Action International] are small, but they are capable; they bear malice towards no one, and they are inscrutably honest. If industry is indeed persuaded to face up to its social responsibilities in the coming years it may well be because of these associations and others like them.
- Dukes MN. Accountability of the pharmaceutical industry. Lancet. 2002 Nov 23; 360(9346)1682-4.