Public communication about CHIM: What is the role of the media?

Sandhya Srinivasan


Abstract

The possibility of introducing the Controlled Human Infection Model of research into India is being discussed by some Indian scientists in order to develop biomedical technologies such as vaccines. CHIM studies involve the deliberate introduction of an infectious agent into a healthy person in order to observe the development and progression of the disease, or test potential treatments. This idea will be alarming to the Indian public who will demand the assurance that CHIM is needed and safe.

Health communication is viewed by researchers as vital to getting communities on board in public health programmes. The role of the media, however, is to provide information and analysis that represents the public’s interests, and enables the public to make informed decisions.

The starting point for journalists will be the environment in which CHIM would be conducted in India: poor healthcare, poverty, vulnerabilities of various kinds, ethical violations, weak regulation, and industry’s impunity. They will also consider that research agendas may be driven by a focus on technological solutions to complex problems, and promote unnecessary vaccines that subsidise the private sector vaccine industry.

When talking to the media about its interest in conducting human challenge trials, the research community will have to be honest about its plans, transparent in its functioning, and also ready to admit the possibility that we should not introduce this technology in India.

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