By PETER ORENGO
Thousands of desperate Kenyan patients are being used as guinea pigs in a thriving multibillion-drug industry with some trials contravening the country’s laws and the international drugs-trial protocols.
A Dutch NGO, Somo, has released a report, Clinical Trials in Kenya, which says some of this research is conducted by individuals, especially university researchers working on their theses. The experiments conducted often raise ethical issues, especially when safety protocals are ignored.
The specialists say the problem is being compounded when desperate Kenyans diagnosed with cancer or HIV volunteer for trials solely to gain access to medicine and treatment.
Those carrying out the trials include poorly-paid university researchers and doctors who willingly use new drugs on patients upon being promised money, or an agreement for further studies in elite institutions outside the country.
The major risk factor here is bio-terrorism where the country could be exposed to harmful substances or even diseases worse than Aids. Those involved include renowned Kenyan professionals, who apart from working for drug companies, authorise the smuggling of medical samples such as blood and body part organs for study outside the country. The cartel is said to include high-level government officials.
“I know that a lot of our doctors and researchers participate, either knowingly or through orders of their superiors, in administering unapproved drugs on patients,” said a lead researcher who accepted to talk so long as he was not named.
“Also, Kenyans, especially those with HIV, are signing up for clinical trials because they think they may somehow end up being cured. Research is big business in this country.”
Moses Otsyula, now head of virology at Kenya’s Institute of Primate Research, raised the red flag a few years ago when he filed a lawsuit against Oxford University and eight British scientists, alleging fraud and theft of samples and research materials, which were ferried outside the country.
Otsyula was reported in a UK newspaper as saying British researchers “stole” samples of blood and computer data from Kenya’s Nyumbani orphanage where some HIV-positive children had defied expectations by surviving for many years without medication.
Lead researcher Rowland-Jones refuted the claims, saying her team had the necessary permissions for their research, and that any confusion about the status of ethical approval was accidental.