Indian tribal girls not being used as guinea pigs for cancer vaccines

Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad put his foot down on the allegation that Indian girls are being used as guinea pigs for anti-cervical cancer vaccines. He denied this allegation of the opposition vehemently. The efforts were in a direction to equip India to deal with the deadly cervical cancer, Health ministry clarified. Surrounded by fierce criticism from all quarters, Health ministry has come out in strong defense of its moves. In a bid to try to control the situation, a committee has been set up for further investigation. The import and trials of vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil have been stopped now. .

Girls being used as Guinea pigs became a widespread topic in the opposition after six tribal girls who took the vaccine died. They were
administered the Cervarix and Gardasil vaccines as a part of the ongoing trials. Charges of violation of guidelines have also been leveled by the opposition. CPI-M leader Brinda Karat came out strongly against this issue. She questioned on the use tribal girls as subjects for trials and on the informed consent. Cervical cancer vaccines were administered to tribal girls as a part of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine trials.

Ghulam Nabi Azad had drawn a lot of flak in this whole case. He was questioned by the opposition on various aspects mainly the reason for choosing only tribal girls for trials. There have been charges that multinational are using Indian grounds to test their vaccines. Also, the permission of the cervical cancer vaccine administration was given to a US-based NGO, PATH, which called for a conflict of interest. PATH apparently is the partner of the manufacturing company Merck in other projects. Merck is the importer of the cancer vaccines. Ghulam in response iterated that PATH was an NGO of international repute.

The newly formed committee will look in to the safety and ethical of these trials. It is also expected to probe regarding the role of senior officials in this case. S.P. Agarwal, former Director-General of Health Services; Sunita Mittal, head of the Department Obstetrics and Gynecology, AIIMS; and pharmacologist Ranjit Roy form the panel. The opposition however was not happy with the constitution of the committee as it believed that medical experts should form a part of the panel as well.