Poor countries are guinea pigs for pharmaceutical tests
John Le Carré’s bestselling novel The Constant Gardener showed how pharmaceutical companies test new medicines in Africa, even when troubling questions exist about their safety and reliability. Unfortunately, this practise is not limited to fiction. Recently, a report leaked from the Nigerian government denouncing the Pfizer drug company for testing an experimental new meningitis medication during an epidemic without permission from either the government or the test subjects, as The Washington Post reported in May. Meanwhile, Doctors Without Borders was giving out approved antibiotics at the local hospital.
Alongside Africa, India and Eastern Europe are also used as testing grounds for new medicines because costs are so much lower there than in the West and the rules regarding patient consent are so much more lenient.
Mo (July 2006), the Belgian magazine about globalization, travelled to Indian hospitals and witnessed how patients are lured by simple posters. “Are you overweight? Come to Room 1 for a free consultation!” Those reporting to Room 1 are told they can participate in a research project for free that would normally cost at least 1,000 rupees. Who wouldn’t want to participate? According to Vasantha Muthuswamy, Senior Deputy Director-General of the Indian Council for Medical Research in Delhi, most patients don’t even know they’re enrolled in an experiment. “The doctors say they wouldn’t understand anyway.” According to Muthuswamy, the government has no say about these practises, particularly those carried out in private hospitals. Yet the medicines may be harmful.
One final irony: Many of the medicines tested in India, Africa and Eastern Europe will never become available there. They are too expensive.