Young tribal girls received shots of pharmaceutical company Merck's Gardasil vaccine and Cervarix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline.
The vaccines are given to girls as young as nine in many countries - including the UK and the US - to protect against the human papilloma virus, one of the major causes of cervical cancer.
But the Indian court yesterday heard a challenge by campaigners who claim the study - funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation - failed to obtain the informed consent of the children or their parents.
They say that a 'study' carried out for the foundation by a US organisation was in fact an illegal drugs trial.
Skeletons started tumbling out when an NGO visited Andhra Pradesh. Health activists from the NGO Sama visited Khammam in March 2010 and found out that more than 100 girls were having epileptic seizures, stomach aches, headaches and mood swings. The girls also complained about early menstruation, heavy bleeding and menstrual cramps. Sama raised the issue that these students were made guinea pigs on the pretext of providing healthcare. The illiterate parents were kept in the dark about the real vaccine, and most of them gave their consent in the form of thumb prints.
A partial but negative answer began to emerge in 2014, when the country’s Supreme Court raised questions about the operations of the foundation in some rural parts of India.
In 2009, tribal children from the Khammam district in Andhra Pradesh were administered with a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine meant for cervical cancer. Around 16,000 girls between the age of 9-15 years were given three shots of vaccine, (manufactured by Merck) by the state health department. The girls were told that they were being given “well-being” shots. The incident started getting attention when some months later, several girls’ health deteriorated and the following year, five of them died. Two such similar cases of deaths were reported from Vadodara, Gujarat, where 14,000 tribal children were also vaccinated with the HPV vaccine Cervarix, made by Glaxo SmithKline.
The American NGO, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) had carried out the studies. They were testing how the cervical cancer vaccine would react on young females. And this unethical test of Path was being funded by none other than the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ironically, the study was considered a success by the foundation. The Bill Gates Foundation also aided PATH in the study of Rotavirus vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine in Africa and Asia.