Cambodian Prime Minister Says He Opposes Testing HIV/AIDS Drugs on Residents
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday said he opposes testing HIV/AIDS drugs on Cambodians, remarks that could "derail" a clinical trial of Gilead Sciences' antiretroviral drug Viread set to take place in the country, the AP/Yahoo! News reports. Although Hun Sen did not mention a specific clinical trial, his statements seemed to be directed toward the Viread study, which is being funded by NIH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, according to the AP/Yahoo! News (Munthit, AP/Yahoo! News, 8/3). In March, NIH awarded a $2.1 million grant to University of California-San Francisco researchers to test Viread in 960 Cambodian women, most of whom are commercial sex workers. The drug, which is known generically as tenofovir, has been shown to boost immune response and reduce viral levels in the bloodstreams of patients who are resistant to other antiretrovirals. The year-long study will be a collaborative effort among Cambodia's Ministry of Health, UCSF and the University of New South Wales in Australia. However, about 150 Cambodian commercial sex workers who are members of the Women's Network for Unity have said they will not participate in the study unless they are provided with 30 years of health insurance to cover possible adverse reactions and side effects from taking the drug (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/30). "Please don't use Cambodians for (any drug) trial," Hun Sen said, adding, "If a trial is needed, please do it on animals, and don't use Cambodians." Although Cambodia's health ministry approved the study last year, it has not officially begun, according to Khol Vohith, a research officer at the country's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (AP/Yahoo! News, 8/3).
"I welcome the prime minister's comments," Sou Sotheavy of WNU said, adding, "What he has said should make our demands successful" (Agence France-Presse, 7/3). At last month's XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, a group of about 30 Cambodian commercial sex workers interrupted a session on antiretroviral drugs to protest the trial. About 30 demonstrators took over the stage for 15 minutes during a Gilead-sponsored session, shouting that the company "uses sex workers for free" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/15). NCHDSTD Director Saphonn Vonthanak would not comment on Hun Sen's statements and said he did not know if they were directed at the Viread study, according to the AP/Yahoo! News. He added that the center will "seek clarification" of the prime minister's statements, the AP/Yahoo! News reports (AP/Yahoo! News, 7/3).