Since 1999, more than 8700 Peruvian children have taken part in 59 medical experiments. It seems that international pharmaceutical companies have set their eyes upon Peruvian children, even infants young enough to be breastfed, as test subjects for their trials. The problem is that in many cases, families are unaware of their children’s participation, and they do not realize the consequences that the experiments have on their offspring. The National Institute of Health (INS) is responsible for the supervision of medical trials, but only a few hospitals and clinics in Peru have an ethics department. In 2015, 50% of the trials presented to the INS have been supervised by the NGO Prisma, which is financed by the American National Health Institute.
Prisma is currently testing a probiotic named BioGaia on young children from the Peruvian province of Loreto. These children, in exchange for their involvement in the experiment, are given a basket of food. Not only are these tests conducted in public health centers, but the authorities allow pharmaceutical companies to purchase the children involved. Families should be informed about the experiments and obliged to sign authorization forms in which the parents give their complete consent to the participation of their child. This is what legally should be done, but the INS does little to enforce the proper regulations.
It is irresponsible on the Ministry of Health’s behalf to allow what many view as unethical experiments to take place, especially when the well-being of minors is compromised. The public, particularly the juvenile test subjects, has the right to know what is being done to their bodies, and should be given the information required before they agree to whatever measures the Ministry imposes. Families have the right to know what the Ministry intends to do and the consequences its actions may have. However, the citizens do not exercise this right enough because many of them don’t have the necessary access to education; as a result, they have no choice but to agree to the Ministry’s plans.
As of the moment, 3273 minors are participating in seven trials that are conducted throughout Peru. These experiments are carried out to test vaccines for diarrhea, diabetes, hemophilia, arthritis, etc. Most of these studies are financed by international pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis. Since 2006, private health centers have been taking advantage of the lower health standards in Peru, which allow them to administrate experiments without establishing an ethics committee or adequate infrastructure. Seven years later, in 2013, the INS promised to modify the regulation of clinical trials, but their plans were not put into effect; even after the Ministry of Health had reviewed the new regulations twice, they have not been enforced.
However, a few days ago on Friday, June 19, the experiments conducted on children and indigenous peoples have been put to a halt until the new set of regulations regarding clinical trials has been approved. This decision was made because of the reports of the tests broadcasted by the national media, pressuring the Ministry to take immediate action. According to the Minister of Health, Aníbal Velásquez, the new regulation of clinical trials will be much more meticulous, and will be approved in no longer than 30 days. The participants in medical experiments will also be provided with health insurance, and the whole trial process will be managed in a stricter manner.
The public can only hope that the Peruvian government will realize that the protection of the citizens’ rights are more important than the interests of pharmaceutical companies, and that it is unethical for the government to be putting the lives of thousands of children at risk. The new system will ensure the protection of the well-being of children and vulnerable minorities who all have the right to lead a healthy life. People should not need to risk their own health in exchange for money or food, especially not children.