Conducting controlled human infection model studies in India is an ethical obligation

Saumil Y Dholakia


Abstract

Weighing competing obligations and achieving the “greatest balance” of right over wrong guides an individual, an agency or a country in determining what ought to be done in an ethically challenging situation. Conducting controlled human infection model (CHIM) studies in India is one such situation. The ethical challenge in conducting a CHIM study lies in completing the difficult task of introducing standardised, attenuated strains of micro-organisms into normal healthy volunteers, at the same time ensuring the safety of these healthy individuals from potential and completely informed risks in a fashion that is transparent and accountable. The bar is further raised against the background of already fragile public confidence in biomedical research in India; especially when “deliberate” introduction of microbial agents into healthy individuals is involved, with the larger altruistic objective of gain to society as a whole.

This paper discusses the uses of CHIM studies with respect to the larger scientific Indian research enterprise of the 21st century. It further explores etic and emic perspectives in conducting such trials in India and seeks to generate an ethical coherence to the justification for conducting CHIM studies in India. The paper deliberates on ethical issues arising out of conducting CHIM studies and reflects on how developing the capacity for CHIM studies in India is likely to strengthen the health research and development sector in the country.

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