Basseterre, St Kitts. (FILE)
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BASSETERRE – The St Kitts-Nevis government says it has launched an investigation into the use of health facilities here to conduct tests of a vaccine to cure herpes saying it was unaware of the situation.
“It has been brought to the attention of the Ministry of Health that certain clinical trials were being conducted in the Federation, with the support of Southern Illinois University in the United States of America (USA).
“The Ministry of Health states categorically that neither the Cabinet, the Ministry of Health, the office of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) nor the St Kitts and Nevis Medical Board has ever been approached on this project.
“By extension, none of these agencies has approved such a venture. As a result, an active investigation has commenced into this project. The Ministry of Health will always ensure that all research involving human participants follow international standards which protect the safety and security of persons involved,” the government said in a statement.
Earlier this week, Opposition Leader Dr Denzil Douglas said the use of the island to conduct the tests not only raised ethical questions but promoted the twin island Federation in the international community as a rogue state or a banana republic.
“This scandal has rocked the nation around the world with this negative image,” said Douglas in response to US media reports that at least 20 American nationals were flown to the Caribbean island to participate in the testing programme between June and August 2016.
International media reports note that at least seven million US dollars had been pumped into the testing of an experimental drug which did not rely on traditional United States government safety oversight in the first trial.
Neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor a safety panel known as an institutional review board, or IRB, monitored the testing of a vaccine its creators say prevents herpes outbreaks
Former chief medical officer, Dr Patrick Martin in a statement Monday said no vaccine trial in the Federation came to his attention when he served from October 1st 2004 to June 16th last year.
Speaking on his weekly radio programme here on Tuesday, Douglas asked “where did the testing of the herpes vaccine take place?
“Where did the material, the drugs, the storage equipment for these vaccines housed? Were there appropriate Customs Declarations? That is why we say that the government must know and our people must not be misled by this government which we know will claim it does not know,” he added.
The former prime minister accused the present administration of exposing citizens to reputational damage on the altar of personal greed and enrichment and has demanded answers to several other questions raised by the citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis after the scandal broke in the US media.
In the statement, the Ministry of Health said that in order to help fulfil this mandate, the Chief Medical Officer convened an Interim Ethics Review Committee (IERC) to vet all medical research protocols in the Federation in keeping with international best practices.
“The role of the IERC is to ensure that the basic ethical principles and guidelines that govern the conduct of research involving human beings are maintained at all times. An update will be provided to the public once the investigations by the Ministry of National Security have been concluded,” the statement added. (CMC)