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Humans, or Guinea Pigs?
Companies use poor and uneducated patients to try new drugs

Every year millions across the world, more so in the developing countries of South Asia and Africa, line up to earn a quick buck. Welcome to a world where humans are fast replacing guinea pigs!

Advancements in medicine may have increased the life span, but with pharmaceutical companies getting into the race to nail down competition from rival companies, the rules seem to have changed. The increasing practice of engaging unsuspecting candidates in illegal clinical trials is disturbing; they get away with it because most of these participants in the trial are poor and uneducated. Many big names have already set up ‘Test Labs’ in countries like India, Nigeria, Indonesia, wherein behind the cloak of R&D, they easily conduct clinical trial of drugs on unsuspecting patients.

Invaribaly, the primary reason for targeting poor countries is the monetary factor. The tests, which cost around $150 million in the US, can be conducted in developing countries for as little as $90 million. According to a McKinsey report, pharmaceutical companies are likely to invest around $1 to1.5 billion on drug trials by 2010 in almost all developing and underdeveloped countries.

Companies like Nicholas Piramal of Mumbai used 2000 healthy textile workers for medical tests under the cloak of genome research while Quintiles Transnational recruited more than 13,000 Indian patients. Moreover, variants of the pancreatic and prostate cancer drugs are being tested illegally in Argentina, the Czech Republic and Poland while Eli-Lilly is testing expensive Drotrecogin-alfa in more than 36 developing
and underdeveloped countries like Chile, Lebanon, Brazil, India, Philippines and Egypt.

Thanks to effective regulation and prosecution policies in these countries, most trials take place in broad daylight. Saving lives and furthering research is one thing, but to endanger the lives of the poor taking advantage of ignorance is the worst possible crime against humanity. This has to stop at any cost or the side effects of the newly developed drugs will cause deep fissures in an already fragile society for which no pharma company will ever be able to find the right antidote.

Sray Agarwal

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