Clinical drug trials in India ruins poors’ lives

Updated 12 July 2013
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Clinical drug trials in India ruins poors’ lives

Niranjan Lal Pathak couldn’t believe his luck initially. When a doctor at a hospital in central India offered the factory watchman free treatment for a heart complaint, he jumped at the chance.
It was five years ago and the family of the 72-year-old says he didn’t realize that the Maharaja Yashwantrao Hospital in the city of Indore was about to enroll him in a trial of an untested drug.
“We were told that our uncle will be treated under a special project,” his nephew Alok Pathak told AFP over the phone from Indore, the largest city of Madhya Pradesh state.
“The doctor said we wouldn’t have to spend a penny. There was only one condition placed before us — that we should not approach local chemists if we ever ran out of his medicines but go straight to the doctor,” he said.
A petition filed by the family in India’s Supreme Court alleges that the drug tested on him was Atopaxar, developed by Japan-based pharmaceutical company Eisai and supposed to treat anxiety disorders.
His family and health rights group Swasthya Adhikaar Manch (Health Rights Platform) say that he would never have enrolled for the trial had he known that an untested drug would be administered.
The family also claims that the side-effects of the drug left Pathak suffering from dementia.
“He barely recognizes us. His life is finished and so are our hopes to see him healthy and happy again,” Alok told AFP, his voice choked with emotion.
Many desperate and poor people in India are unwittingly taking part in clinical trials for drugs by Indian and multinational pharmaceutical companies that outsource the work to unregulated research organizations.
The record of Pathak’s treatment was maintained on a medical card and his family is now fighting a legal battle, one of scores of cases brought by people who say they are victims of illegal trials.
Testing pharmaceuticals on humans is a mandatory and expensive step for drug companies who must prove to regulatory authorities that treatments have no dangerous side-effects in order to bring them to market.
The Confederation of Indian Industry estimates that companies save up to 60 percent by undertaking the different phases of testing a new drug in India as compared to developed countries.
The clinical research market in India grew by 12.1 percent in 2010-11 with revenues of $ 485 million, according to report by Frost and Sullivan, a global business research and consulting firm.
The study, released in July last year, projected the industry to reach the one-billion dollar mark by the end of 2016.
But the legal case in the Supreme Court, which began in February last year, has helped to bring to light many of the alleged misdeeds by doctors in connivance with pharmaceutical companies.
“There has to be some sense of responsibility. Human beings are treated like animals,” Supreme Court judges R.M. Lodha and A.S. Dave said last year in a written statement.
In Pathak’s case, the hospital says the doctor who treated him administered the drug without authorization and had since left the institution, while Eisai declined to comment, saying it was unable to respond to enquiries on individuals.
“Eisai is committed to making a meaningful contribution under any health care system and undertaking all of its activities adhering to the highest legal and ethical standards,” it said in an e-mail to AFP.
Health campaigner Amulya Nidhi says the lack of strict regulations has prompted many pharmaceutical companies to look to India and other developing countries for the tests.
“In Europe and the United States the laws are pretty strict. India, on the other hand, makes for a less restrictive destination for drug trials because the regulator lacks teeth,” said Nidhi, who works for the Swasthya Adhikaar Manch group.
Swasthya Adhikaar Manch, which is fighting on behalf of some of the trial victims, says most of them visited hospitals for routine treatment but were subjected to trials without their “informed consent.”
“In almost all the cases there is no genuine informed consent,” said campaigner Nidhi.
“The label on the medicines often does not specify that it is meant for trial, and vulnerable people end up being used as lab rats,” he said, showing one such drug sample to AFP in New Delhi.


Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

Updated 23 May 2018
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Rare silk Qur’an helps preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage

  • Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish
  • Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy

KABUL: One of the only Qur’ans ever made from silk fabric has been completed in Afghanistan — a feat its creators hope will help preserve the country’s centuries-old tradition of calligraphy.
Each of the Islamic holy book’s 610 pages was produced by hand in a painstaking process that took a team of 38 calligraphers and artists specializing in miniatures nearly two years to finish.
Bound in goat leather and weighing 8.6 kilograms, the Qur’an was produced by Afghan artisans, many of them trained at British foundation Turquoise Mountain in Kabul.
“Our intention was to ensure that calligraphy does not die out in this country — writing is part of our culture,” Khwaja Qamaruddin Chishti, a 66-year-old master calligrapher, said in a cramped office inside Turquoise Mountain’s labyrinthine mud-brick and wood-paneled complex.
With the Qur’an considered a sacred text, calligraphy is highly venerated in Islam and Islamic art.
“When it comes to art we cannot put a price on it. God has entrusted us with this work (the Qur’an) ... and this means more to us than the financial aspect,” Chishti continued.
Using a bamboo or reed ink pen, Chishti and his fellow calligraphers spent up to two days carefully copying Qur’anic verses onto a single page — sometimes longer if they made a mistake and had to start again.
They used the Naskh script, a calligraphic style developed in early Islam to replace Kufic because it was easier to read and write.
The decoration around the script, known as illumination, was more time-consuming, each page taking more than a week to complete.
A team of artists used paint made from natural materials, including ground lapis, gold and bronze, to recreate the delicate patterns popular during the Timurid dynasty in the 15th and 16th centuries in the western city of Herat.
“All the colors we have used are from nature,” Mohammad Tamim Sahibzada, a master miniature artist who was responsible for creating the vibrant colors used in the Qur’an, said.
Sahibzada said working on silk fabric for the first time was challenging. The locally sourced material — all 305 meters (1,000 feet) of it — was treated in a solution made from the dried seeds of ispaghula, or psyllium, to stop the ink from spreading.
Turquoise Mountain began work in 2006 in Kabul with the aim of preserving ancient Afghan craftsmanship, including ceramics, carpentry and calligraphy.
It hopes the silk Qur’an will generate demand for more handmade Islamic religious texts that could create employment for its artisans and help finance the institute.
“We will show it to other Islamic countries to see if it is possible to create job opportunities for graduates to work on another Qur’an,” said Abdul Waheed Khalili, the organization’s Afghan director.
For now, it will be kept in a specially made hand-carved walnut wooden box to protect its delicate pages from the elements at Turquoise Mountain’s offices, which are in the restored Murad Khani, a historic commercial and residential area in Kabul’s oldest district.
There Turquoise Mountain has trained thousands of artisans with the support of Britain’s Prince Charles, the British Council, and USAID.
“The copying of the Qur’an onto silk is very rare,” country director Nathan Stroupe said.
He said the project has been “an amazing way to train our students at an incredibly high level in a very traditional type of work.”
“If a book collector in London... was interested in it, we would be thinking in the $100,000 to $200,000 (price) range,” he added.