ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Experimenting with the Young

The inquiry committee report on the anti-cervical cancer vaccine study project finds serious ethical violations.

An inquiry committee, set up by the central government to investigate charges of unethical testing of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines on tribal girls in Andhra Pradesh (AP), has questioned the role of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the state government in the observation study. In 2010, the state governments of AP and Gujarat, an American non-governmental organisation (NGO) PATH and the ICMR conducted a post-licensure observation study of HPV vaccination in the two states. The vaccine had already been licensed for sale in the country in 2008. The study – funded by the Gates Foundation with the vaccines supplied free by pharma companies Merck Sharpe and Dohme and GlaxoSmithKline – vaccinated tribal girls in AP’s Khammam and Gujarat’s Vadodara districts who were between the ages of 9 and 15. The study was stopped in 2010 after the death of seven girls in AP.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women and kills 74,118 of the 1,32,082 diagnosed with it every year. Early detection, by way of regular pap smear tests and treatment are the most effective ways of dealing with it. However, awareness and availability of this test are low and despite the high incidence, India does not have a national cervical cancer screening programme. The main form of the cancer accountable for 80% to 90% of the cases is caused by HPV which is a sexually transmitted infection. The HPV vaccine, available and used in some countries including India, is not only very expensive but the subject of a virulent controversy on its side-effects.

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