Make us your home page
Instagram

Deaths raise questions in Indian hospital

NEW DELHI — Rahul Verma suspected he was opening a can of worms when he filed a request under India's new Right to Information Act.

Verma, whose critically ill son has been treated at All India Institute of Medical Sciences here, had heard parents complain that their children were not admitted because the hospital's beds were filled with patients in clinical trials.

So last summer Verma asked the government hospital's pediatric department these questions:

How many clinical trials have they conducted since January 2006?

How many children were involved in these trials?

How many patients died during these trials?

In the United States, a person who asked these questions of hospitals, drug companies or the FDA would get nowhere, blocked by claims of patient and corporate confidentiality. But amazingly, within a month Verma had his answers from the Delhi hospital, known as AIIMS.

Since the beginning of 2006, the pediatric department had conducted 42 trials, involving 4,142 children. Number of deaths: 49.

The news, splashed in headlines proclaiming "49 babies die,'' set off a firestorm. Though hospital officials documented that the deaths were due to underlying illnesses, even fellow researchers wondered why an overburdened public hospital, which handles about 500 pediatric outpatients a day, was taking on the extra work of clinical trials.

"Their primary objective should be to do patient care,'' said Dr. Urmila Thatte, head of clinical pharmacology at a public teaching hospital in Mumbai. "Clinical trials should not supersede that."

Dr. Vinod K. Paul, the hospital's head of pediatrics, dismissed claims that patient care had been slighted and was indignant at what he described as an attack on "the AIIMS' temple of learning and innovation." In an interview about a month after the controversy erupted, Paul itemized the causes of the 49 deaths while an assistant served tea and cookies.

A study that tried over-the-counter mouthwash to prevent sepsis in seriously ill children on ventilators accounted for 22 deaths; 21 deaths occurred in a World Health Organization-sponsored study of the potential benefit of low-cost zinc tablets for children with severe sepsis.

"Zinc tablets never kill,'' said Paul, pulling a bottle of the pills from a desk drawer and popping one in his mouth. "They keep me happy."

Serious diseases, not AIIMS' experimental therapies, killed the children, Paul said repeatedly, with the exasperation of a teacher with a slow child. Only five trials were sponsored by multinational drug companies and no one died during those trials, he said.

"I get requests from pharmaceutical companies (to do trials) every two or three weeks,'' said Paul, who said he usually rejects such offers. "We have no interest in being a colonial research entity. No way."

Outside the doors of Paul's spotless, air-conditioned office, about 4-million patients a year, among them the nation's poorest, clamor for care from AIIMS' doctors. They lie two per bed in the pediatric outpatient ward and pack a tiny emergency room off the hospital's main entrance. When an ambulance from a private hospital raced up and unloaded a critically ill newborn whose parents had run out of money, Paul's colleagues had no choice but to find space.

Verma, the father who paid 10 rupees (about 20 cents) to file his public records request, said that with space at such a premium, a government hospital shouldn't be spending time and resources on drug studies. He also said it's not clear how many of these studies involved poor, illiterate patients, whose parents who might not fully understand the nature of the trials.

Paul argues just the opposite, saying that the poverty of his patients only adds to the importance of AIIMS' research work. "Twenty-two percent of the people here make less than $1 a day," he said.

"So if I write a prescription that costs $1 a day, for that time they don't eat. If my department cannot do research, what are we here for?"

Deaths raise questions in Indian hospital 12/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 4:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette

    News

    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  3. Another Hollywood nursing home resident dies. It's the 9th in post-Irma tragedy.

    State Roundup

    The Broward County Medical Examiner's office is investigating another death of a resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills — the ninth blamed on the failure of a cooling system that became a stifling deathtrap three days after Irma hit.

    Carlos Canal, pictured at 47 years old, came to Miami from Cuba in 1960. Above is his citizenship photo. [Courtesy of Lily Schwartz]
  4. Despite Hurricane Irma, Hillsborough remains on pace to unlock hotel tax that could pay for Rays ballpark

    Tourism

    TAMPA — Despite the threat of a catastrophic storm, it was business as usual at many Hillsborough County hotels in the days before Hurricane Irma bore down on the Tampa Bay region.

    The Grand Hyatt near TIA closed during Hurricane Irma, but many other Hillsborough hotels were open and saw an influx.
  5. New Graham-Cassidy health care plan stumbles under opposition from governors

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The suddenly resurgent Republican effort to undo the Affordable Care Act was dealt a blow on Tuesday when a bipartisan group of governors came out against a proposal gaining steam in the Senate.

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined by, from left, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks to reporters as he pushes a last-ditch effort to uproot former President Barack Obama's health care law, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. To win, 50 of the 52 GOP senators must back it -- a margin they failed to reach when the chamber rejected the effort in July. [/J. Scott Applewhite | Associated Press]