One of every four deaths from cervical cancer worldwide is a woman in India.
The cancer, which kills 250,000 women every year, is almost always caused by a sexually transmitted virus, human papillomavirus or HPV. There is a vaccine against HPV that studies have shown prevents this infection. India, it turns out, has more than its fair share of HPV and cervical cancer.
In 2009, Seattle-based PATH, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, launched a project aimed at assisting India with introducing the HPV vaccine.
It didn’t work out as planned, as a report in Nature News this week — entitled Vaccines trial’s ethics criticized — describes in some detail.
The sub-headline of the Nature article, “Collapsed trial fuels unfounded vaccine fears,” is perhaps a bit closer to capturing the essence of this tale. But you could also say it was actually the unfounded fears that caused the collapse, which continues to fuel allegations of unethical research. An excerpt:
A scientific investigation has exonerated the vaccines but uncovered a more familiar problem in India: ethical irregularities.
Sounds bad, but I don’t think that was really the main problem here either. The problem, at least insofar as I can tell, is that the scientific and medical community basically sat on the sidelines and hoped to avoid controversy instead of dealing with it head on. Continue reading