Unethical randomised controlled trial of cervical screening in India: US Freedom of Information Act disclosures

Abstract

A randomised controlled trial conducted in Mumbai, India, compared invasive cervical cancer rates among women offered cervical screening with invasive cervical cancer rates among women offered no-screening. The US Office for Human Research Protections determined the Mumbai trial was unethical because informed consent was not obtained from trial participants. Reportedly, cervical screening in the Mumbai trial reduced invasive cervical cancer mortality rates, but not invasive cervical cancer incidence rates. Documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act disclose that the US National Cancer Institute funded the Mumbai trial from 1997 to 2015 to study 'visual inspection/downstaging' tests. However, 'visual inspection/downstaging' tests had been judged unsatisfactory for cancer control before the Mumbai trial began. 'Visual inspection/downstaging' tests failed to reduce invasive cervical cancer incidence rates in Mumbai because 'visual inspection/downstaging' tests, by design, failed to detect preinvasive cervical lesions. None of the 151 538 Mumbai trial participants, in either the intervention or control arms, received cervical screening tests that detected preinvasive cervical lesions. Because of missing/discrepant clinical staging data, it is uncertain whether 'visual inspection/downstaging' tests actually reduced invasive cervical cancer mortality rates in Mumbai. Documents obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act disclose that US National Cancer Institute leaders avoided accountability by making false and misleading statements to Congressional oversight staff. Our findings contradict assurances given to President Barack Obama that regulations pertaining to global health research supported by the US government adequately protect human participants from unethical treatment. US National Cancer Institute leaders should develop policies to compensate victims of unethical global health research. All surviving Mumbai trial participants should finally receive cervical screening tests that detect preinvasive cervical lesions.

DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2016-000177

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Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Suba2017UnethicalRC, title={Unethical randomised controlled trial of cervical screening in India: US Freedom of Information Act disclosures}, author={Eric J. Suba and Robert E Ortega and David G. Mutch}, booktitle={BMJ global health}, year={2017} }