Clinical trials sustain Ahmedabad’s riot victims
In the dusty lanes of Juhapura, clinical trials made breadwinners of poor women.
Courtesy: Down to Earth
When her husband took chronically ill after communal riots drove them to Juhapura, a ghetto on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, poverty made life seem unmanageable. Free will then became a matter of Rs 8,000 for 40-year-old Zainab Bi. For a sum like that she was willing to swallow an unknown pill once in three months. It wasn’t much they were asking for really, so she gladly gave her thumb impression on the dotted line.
For companies researching new drugs the thumb impression was proof that Bi submitted herself to the experiment of her own free will. It was far more expensive to have such proof in countries where the multinational drug companies that sponsored the research had their headquarters.
They were far more cumbersome, involved lengthy documentation and rigorous insurance plans.
Clinical research organizations (cros) made the task far easier for these companies by carrying out their research in the ghettoes of India’s big cities. Drug trial was far less daunting; and inexpensive. People were more than willing to offer their bodies for bio-chemical experimentation. The official guidelines warned against monetary inducement.
It took Bi, and so many like her in Juhapura, only moments to make up their mind when a woman agent from a newly opened cro, Lambda Therapeutic Research Ltd, approached them for participation. She explained they would be required to take newly developed drugs for diseases like malaria, chikungunya, hiv/aids even. The agent spoke of possible risks, side effects and what not. Not all of it made sense to Bi. What did sink in was that she was going to be paid Rs 8000 for some new medicine that could cure hiv/aids. She had heard of this disease in radio messages.
In the beginning, Juhapura’s women were not sure how they would get their family’s permission to spend a night, or may be two, at the clinical research lab on the national highway not far from their slum area. When they learnt they were going to be paid between Rs 4,000 and Rs 10,000 the deal was too sweet to resist. The family could not afford to object either.
The transition from the city centre, where they earlier lived, to Juhapura made economic refugees of most people living here. Before the riots many of the 5 lakh inhabitants of Ahmedabad’s largest Muslim ghetto lived in thriving bustling areas like Naroda Patiya, Gulbarg Society, Vatwa. But Juhapura was a world apart, where the community was both the consumer and the vendor. The tailors, vegetable and meat sellers, small time hair-dressers and watch repairers that practised their trade sold services and products to one another. The vibrant market of the city centre was absent here.
Naturally therefore, if a tailor was making Rs 200 a day in Naroda Patiya, he could barely manage Rs 50 a day in Juhapura, said Noorjahan, community leader attached to a group ambitiously called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, Indian Muslim women’s movement. Once Bi’s husband fell chronically ill, it was hand to mouth for the couple and their four children. Under the circumstances, nitpicking over side effects and other safety issues was a luxury. Rs 8000 was what mattered most.
Did they not worry at all? Jannat Bibi said she had heard they were tested for drugs for diabetes, asthma, cancer and even neurological disorders. Noorjahan said some women did complain of stomach problems and rashes on the body. Bi, who has been doing this for three years, said there was no reason for worry. “It is perfectly safe. I haven’t had a single problem in all these years."