Prime Minister Hun Sen criticized a controversial yet much-delayed trial of a drug that may prevent HIV/AIDS on Tuesday, criticizing researchers who would use Cambodians as test subjects.
“Cambodia is not a trash bin country,” the prime minister said at the groundbreaking ceremony for an expansion of Kantha Bopha I Hospital in Phnom Penh. “So far, they have tested Cambodians with anti-retroviral drugs. They should not conduct experiments with Cambodians. They should do it with animals.”
No tests have been conducted in a planned study to determine whether the drug tenofovir can prevent HIV infection in sex workers. The drug has been tested on animals and is used to treat HIV-positive patients, but its long-term effects on HIV-negative individuals are unknown.
The current study, funded in part by the US National Institutes of Health and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was originally scheduled for April but has been delayed amidst protests over the ethics of the trial.
Reached by telephone Tuesday, the trial’s coordinators were reluctant to comment.
“Please, I don’t want to comment on my prime minister,” said Saphonn Vonthanak, the study’s co-investigator and deputy director of the National Center for HIV/
AIDS, Dermatology and STIs. Dr Ly Penh Sun, technical bureau director at NCHADS, also declined to comment.
Representatives of NCHADS, which is coordinating the study in Cambodia, said in June that researchers were awaiting approval from Westat, a US health survey company contracted to review the trial. Westat officials have not returned to Cambodia for a follow-up to a review conducted in May, Khol Vohith, NCHADS community education coordinator, said Tuesday. The visit was originally scheduled for July, he said.
Despite Hun Sen’s criticism, and the June announcement that hundreds of sex workers plan to boycott the trials, the survey is moving ahead. NCHADS staff began training outreach workers, last week, to recruit the 960 participants needed for the study, Khol Vohith said.