Experts Attack Aids Research on Women Who Live in Poverty

Article excerpt

Urgent experiments intended to stop the tragic spread of AIDS from mothers to children in some of the world's poorest places are under attack from the New England Journal of Medicine.

An editorial in today's issue of the influential journal compares the research efforts to the notorious Tuskegee Experiment study in which penicillin was denied to black men infected with syphilis.

It argues that withholding proven AZT treatment from pregnant women with AIDS, even in places where the drug will never be widely available, clearly violates World Health Organization guidelines intended to keep researchers from conducting unethical experiments. Every day around the world, at least 1,000 babies catch HIV from their mothers. Sixteen research projects, mostly in Africa, are trying to find affordable alternatives to weeks of AZT treatment, now the standard approach in prosperous countries to prevent infected mothers from passing on the AIDS virus in childbirth. The proven AZT regimen costs $1,000 per pregnant woman and is simply out of the question in countries where total per capita spending on health care is less than $10 a year. As a result, most of such AIDS-infected women get no preventive treatment at all. The goal is to find some level of treatment that will work with as little as two or three pills and cost a few dollars. To prove that simple approaches work better than nothing, researchers have set up comparison studies in which some women get low doses of drugs and some get dummy pills. …

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