April 10, 2006

Salt in the Wound

If Mohandas Gandhi were alive today, Glenn McGee argues in The Scientist, he would lead a march on Indian pharmaceutical research organizations, where the oppression of Indians is every bit as terrible as was the imperialism of the British:
In March 1930, Mohandas Gandhi set out from his ashram in western India on a 387-km trek to the sea. Twenty-five days later the tens of thousands who joined that march watched as he stooped, raised a handful of salty mud, and declared the end of British imperialism in India. The march culminated as Gandhi led nonviolent protesters to the doors of the salt factory in Dharasana, where they attempted to push their way into the facility without weapons or raised fists. On that hot day hundreds were beaten, a spectacle that would make its way into newspapers worldwide and change the face of India forever.

If Gandhi were alive today, he would lead protesters to the doors of a clinical research trials facility, where the oppression of the Indian poor dwarfs that of the 1930s. Why? Not because Gandhi was a Luddite, a man who held meetings while spinning thread. And not because many of the excellent research institutions that have led India into its embrace of multinational bioengineering and medical research bear his family name.

No, the problem for Gandhi would be the outsourced clinical trials that have enrolled tens of thousands of Indians in a $1 billion business aimed not at the improvement of Indians’ health or technology, but at providing deep discounts to pharmaceutical companies in other nations.

It is a perfect storm: The number of open slots in clinical trials around the world increases, the number of Americans willing to enroll in such trials lags (as few as 1.7% of patients with cancer), and the cost of clinical trials in India is half that in the United States. It is no surprise that American and European pharmaceutical companies are fanning out across the second most populous nation in the world...

Read the rest of this essay here [subscription required].

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