March 09, 2011

Arogyasri Insurance patients turn guinea pigs

The poor literacy level of Arogyasri beneficiaries has given a lucrative but worrisome spin to healthcare business in the state- city hospitals are now hardselling their patient numbers to bag clinical trial projects from international pharma firms.

Whether big or small, public or private, most hospitals in the state now have a dedicated clinical research unit to carry out trials. Doctors note there is a surge in the number of companies headed to the state and also the number of trials being carried out, "because there are a lot of guinea pigs here''.

Being tested on people are drugs for diabetes, cancer apart from drugs for cardiac, gastro and liver conditions. Certain drugs for hormonal problems as well as rheumatic disorders are also being tested currently in city hospitals. The trials are on even in district hospitals, both private and public and doctors involved in clinical trials agree that most of their volunteers are 'uneducated and poor'.

There is reliable information on poor patients even being 'supplied' to hospitals under Arogyasri for the trials. "Getting a signature on the consent form is not difficult. If it takes a year to get 10 patients to volunteer for a trial in the US, here the same number can be arranged in no time,'' said a researcher.

Dr M Prakasamma of Academy of Nursing Studies who has been a member of various ethical committees on medical research in the past says there are huge concerns on patient awareness on what is being tried on them. And that the clinical trial business is big is evident from the fact that now institutes for training manpower to carry out trials have sprung up to meet the growing demand for personnel in these research units.

Industry sources note that most clinical trials are taking place in government hospitals, because "recruiting volunteers'' is easy. However, private hospitals over the last couple of years have emerged as competitors with the state health insurance scheme giving them the much-needed numbers to bag trials. "If earlier we could recruit one patient from 10, we now have larger base and can recruit 10 from 100,'' said a senior industry source dabbling in clinical trials.

Link: Original Article

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