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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 20448

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

Doherty B
Drug companies 'using Indians as guinea pigs'
The Sydney Morning Herald 2013 Jan 27

Full text:

INDIA’s Supreme Court has condemned the global pharmaceutical industry, claiming it has been using its citizens as ‘‘guinea pigs’‘.

The court has now restricted clinical drug trials throughout the country after hearing evidence that new, experimental medicines are being trialled on people, including children and the disabled, without their knowledge or permission.

‘‘It pains us that illiterate people and the children of India are being used as guinea pigs by the multinational drug companies … Uncontrolled clinical trials are creating havoc in the country,’‘ Justice R.M. Lodha said from the bench this month.

The court has imposed direct control of clinical trials on the health secretary, stripping authority from government agency the Drug Controller-General, whose inaction, the court said, was allowing multinational pharmaceutical companies to run ‘‘rackets’‘ across India.

‘‘You have to protect the health of the citizens of the country. It is your obligation. Deaths must be arrested and illegal trials must be stayed,’‘ the bench said.

Precise figures are hard to know, but health organisations estimate between 350,000 and 2 million Indians have been involved in the trials, some of which have been conducted using Australian government funding.

As revealed in a Fairfax Media investigation, clinical drug trials are at the centre of a growing controversy in India as evidence emerges before courts and in government inquiries of patients being put onto drug trials without their knowledge or consent, of patients dying and their families being left uncompensated, and of doctors being paid generous commissions to enlist as many subjects for trials as they can.

Doctors are being told what to say – word for word – by the drug manufacturers in their assessment of the drugs they are supposed to be trialling, a parliamentary committee has found.

And patients’ rights groups such as Swasthya Adhikar Manch have uncovered hundreds of hospital records showing drug trials being conducted on patients without their permission, by, or on behalf of, some of the biggest names in the global pharmaceutical trade.

There is little deterrence: a dozen doctors found to have conducted secret drug trials on children and patients with learning difficulties were fined less than $100. It is a health system in crisis, observers say, harming those it is supposed to help.

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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909