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Millennium Post

Using Indians as guinea pigs

Illegal testing of drugs on poor Indians is laced with significant ethical and legal issues, yet the union government makes no effort to understand its implications and the casualties that have been caused due to illegal testing. The ones who are the most guilty in such matters are usually the multinational companies who find India a cheaper destination to test its experimental drugs, illegally of course, some of which obviously resulting in deaths, which are neither noted, nor reported. Now, thanks to the efforts of an NGO, crimes related to illegal testing are coming to light. The hearing on a case pertaining to this matter has resumed in the bench of Justices R M Lodha and Anil R Dave and the bench has expressed serious concern over the menace caused by uncontrolled clinical trial of drugs on humans. The number of deaths due to illegal testing could be touching a total of approximately 2,500 between 2007 and 2012. But the actual tally could be much higher because medical cases of negligence and abortive trials are often despatched duplicitously.  

Terming the results of illegal testing as ‘causing havoc’, the apex court has ordered the government to ensure that the union government does not dilly dally further in putting into place regulations and guidelines to let the drug companies continue with illegal testing, however under the vigilance of the norms. It has also directed the health ministry to monitor and regulate clinical trials of experimental drugs until further notice. The case filed by NGO Swasthya Adhikar Manch, has alleged that an estimated Rs 8,000 crore industry exists around illegal drug testing, dominated by multinational companies who are using poor Indians as guinea pigs, thanks to weak norms and vigilance and availability of persons who are ready to be tested upon for little money. The case brings to light a really troubling issue. Drug testing is always a matter shrouded in half information, medical straight jacketing and secrecy because most experimental drugs are tested at various levels with varying degrees of threat to human life and anatomy. Acquiring legal licences for clinical trials is cumbersome and costly in the West, prompting multinationals to test waters in relatively poorer and populated demographies in India and parts of Africa.     

Multinationals will stop at nothing to make profit. So like the West, India must do everything to prevent the multinationals to have an easy and cheap access to Indian bodies and organs. The apex court’s strong stand is just the beginning. India needs much more to be done in this area.
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