Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
HHS Backs Whistleblower Protection for NIH Research Specialist Who Claimed Flaws in Nevirapine Studies in Africa
HHS has filed a legal petition backing whistleblower status for former NIH employee Dr. Jonathan Fishbein, who claimed misconduct in the reporting of an NIH-funded study on the use of the antiretroviral drug nevirapine among pregnant HIV-positive women in Uganda, the Washington Post reports (Lee, Washington Post, 2/2). Fishbein last month told a panel of the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., that the Uganda study was "so poorly conducted" that it "potentially put the lives of hundreds" of participants and infants at risk. NIH -- which maintains that nevirapine is safe for single-dose use in HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce the risk of vertical HIV transmission -- asked IOM to conduct a review of the study. NIH hired Fishbein to improve its research practices, but the agency recently decided to fire him for poor performance during a probationary period. However, Fishbein said he believes he is being fired in retaliation for his refusal to overlook research shortcomings. A federal administrative law judge in November 2004 denied Fishbein whistleblower status because he was hired as a "special consultant" and therefore lacks standard civil service protections (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/5). In the six-page legal filing backing whistleblower status for Fishbein, HHS attorney William Biglow wrote, "There is nothing in the record indicating that there was ever any congressional intent to exclude [Fishbein] from the protections of the [Whistleblower Protection Act]" (Washington Post, 2/2). Stephen Kohn, Fishbein's attorney, said, "Relying on a technicality to dismiss Dr. Fishbein's whistleblower case was underhanded and wrong," adding, "HHS must now order Dr. Fishbein's immediate reinstatement and must take prompt corrective action to address the 'chilling effect' his termination had on other employees" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 2/3).
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