RELEM, Watchdog for Latin America
Pharmaceutical companies do not always stick to the rules in developing countries. In Latin America RELEM, a Wemos partner organization, keeps a watchful eye on this industry.
Before any new drug is put on the market, it is tested on human subjects. The pharmaceutical industry carries out much of this drug testing in poor countries, and the test subjects themselves are not always made fully aware of the risks. This is an example of unethical behaviour, and Núria Homedes, a US public health expert who coordinates the Latin American Network on Ethics and Pharmaceuticals (RELEM), can cite many more. Núria: ‘The working methods of pharmaceutical companies are frequently questionable. For instance, people are offered drugs they do not actually need, while there are other diseases for which no drugs are being developed whatsoever. Particularly, inhabitants of developing countries are victimized. The pharmaceutical industry does not carry out enough research in communicable diseases and other health problems for which they do not have a market. Often clinical trial participants in developing countries are not aware that they are included in a research protocol, and are unable to understand the informed consent forms. In some cases they have not even seen the forms.
||'It can be argued that the pharmaceutical industry takes little account of people’s real needs, and none whatsoever of those in developing countries. The industry heavily controls the health sector. First of all, pharmaceutical companies influence medical education. And pharmacists receive incentives for dispensing certain types of medicines. Many supposedly educational activities are just marketing… and the list goes on.
'Salud y Fármacos, the organization I established in the United States, decided to prepare a survey to identify what people in Latin America knew about the ethical behaviour of the different actors around the medication cycle, including the industry, regulatory agencies, governments, health providers, pharmacists, and patients. We received thousands of pages of documentation. This is when we decided to create RELEM. We collect and publish data on abuses and we aim to influence policies that will push the industry to act in accordance with the rules. In Argentina, Brazil and Costa Rica, RELEM is currently involved in setting up Clinical Trial Watches, teams of ‘watchdogs’ who document factual material on unethical clinical trials in order to protect people and their health.’
This is an extended and translated version of a Dutch article first published in the Wemos Newsletter and on the Wemos website.
5 February 2010