Distrust of Medical Community May Make Recruitment of Black Volunteers for AIDS Vaccine Testing Difficult
AIDS advocates and educators are warning that a pervasive distrust of the medical community among many blacks may make recruiting volunteers for further AIDSVAX vaccine trials difficult, the AP/Nando Times reports. This mistrust grew out of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was conducted from 1932 to 1972 by the federal government. The government withheld medical treatment from poor, black men in Alabama who had syphilis in order to study the natural progression of the disease, which resulted in 128 deaths, according to the AP/Times. "Many African Americans are suspicious of the health care system and suspicious of doctors and scientists because there's a legacy of mistreatment," Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said, adding, "Even though people may or may not know the specifics of the Tuskegee trials, they know that there are health disparities and that blacks often get inferior treatment based on race." The distrust in the medical system that many blacks feel may make it difficult for researchers to find volunteers to confirm preliminary findings released on Monday that a vaccine created by VaxGen is effective in preventing HIV in blacks and Asians. The study found that 78% fewer blacks who received the vaccine became infected with HIV -- four out of 203 blacks who received the vaccine became infected, while nine of the 111 who received the placebo became infected. Blacks, however, made up only 6% of the 5,009 volunteers involved in the study. While the company called the results statistically significant, other experts warned that the sample size was too small to draw any conclusions. VaxGen spokesperson Jim Key said that the company had difficulty recruiting minority participants and that he hopes the preliminary results "will be a catalyst" for getting more minorities involved. Pernessa Seele, founder of The Balm in Gilead, a not-for-profit group that works with black churches to stop the spread of HIV, said that suspicions could be calmed if more black scientists who "understand black culture" were involved in vaccine research. Lawrence Miller, executive director of the Black Educational AIDS Project in Baltimore, said that the cultural distrust can only be fought through education, adding, "Given the disproportionate impact that the AIDS epidemic has on black people, we stand to gain the most by the development of an effective HIV/AIDS vaccine. We need to do a better job recruiting black volunteers for these clinical trials" (Kong, AP/Nando Times, 2/25).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.