Crimes manufactured in laboratories

By Owei Lakemfa

IT was the lot of the United States (US) Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton last week to render a similar soul-wrenching apology as her husband, Bill Clinton did 13 years ago on behalf of ‘God’s Own Country’. In 1997, the humanist Clinton stood before the world and profusely apologised for White America’s use of Black Americans as guinea pigs during experiments on syphilis.

Back in 1932, the US Public Health Service began secretly using African-Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama in a deadly experiment to measure the long term effects of syphilis. Even after it was confirmed in 1953 that penicillin could cure the disease, the doctors of death refused to administer it on the victims; they still wanted to find out how long they could survive without a cure. A total of 430 African-Americans were used in the experiments which went on for four decades!

Last week, a similar revelation came to light; that the Americans had internationalised their experiments using Guatemalans. The US, without the victims knowledge, had between 1946 and 1948, deliberately injected hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers and patients in mental homes with syphilis in trying to test the efficacy of penicillin on the disease.

Also with the connivance of the Guatemalan authorities, the Americans brought prostitutes infected with syphilis to have sex with inmates to deliberately get them infected as part of the criminal experiments. In all, 696 Guatemalans were used as guinea pigs by American health personnel led by Dr John Cutler.

Mrs Clinton and American Health Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius issued a joint apology and promised an investigation. This is good, but how far have the investigations into the African- Americans case gone after 13 years? Will the perpetrators be brought to book even if posthumously?

Is America willing to come out clean of such related cases rather than apologise only after there has been an unearthing of such state secrets? Most importantly, can the US promise to put a stop to such crimes and undertake that human beings anywhere will not be used as guinea pigs for medical experiments without their informed consent?

Medical experiments must necessarily be carried out if humanity is to continue to survive and overcome medical challenges. Animals, especially rats, mice, birds and guinea pigs are traditionally used for such experiments. Obviously, there will be a point human test runs are made but that should be with volunteers who are adequately informed of possible side effects, and not on innocent or helpless people. To do otherwise is to commit heinous crimes against humanity as the Americans have committed.

Understandably, they are not the only culprits. During the Second World War , Nazi Germany used detainees who were mainly Jews in the concentration camps for medical experiments, but the world made it known that it would not condone such criminality by hurling indicted physicians before the Nurnberg Tribunals. In the present circumstances, the United Nations should take such a clear stand because of all the fundamental human rights it declared as sacred in 1948, none is as fundamental as the Right to Life.

In the name of war, human beings have also been used to test the effects of certain chemicals. For instance, Britain in the 1950s used Defoliants on the human populace in the Malay Peninsula. But the most criminal was the test of the chemicals, Agent White, Agent Blue and Agent Orange by the US during the John F Kennedy administration on the Vietnamese populace from 1961 to 1970 under Richard Nixon. For instance, it was discovered that one of the chemicals in Agent Orange caused birth deformities in laboratory animals.

The Americans tested this on the Vietnamese with tragic results. Seven major American companies: Dow Chemicals, Diamond Shammock, T H Agriculture And Nutrition, Monsanto, Uniroyal, Hercules and Thompson Chemical were given the contract to mass produce the chemical and more than 19 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed on South Vietnam. As was the case with the laboratory animals, there were lots of still births and deformities. Dioxins were also present in the local fish and milk of nursing mothers. So devastating was Agent Orange that some 300,000 American soldiers who served in Vietnam suffered severe after-effects, including liver disorders, skin rashes, rare cancers and Hodgkin’s Disease, a cancer from the lymph.

Here in Nigeria, we have also been unwary victims of such trials and experiments. For instance, the use of Depo Povera, a contraceptive that posed risk of permanent infertility was restricted in the US. With this, the manufacturers in the early 1980s shipped the contraceptive in bulk for wide and affordable usage in Nigeria in an apparent project to study its full effects, and possibly engender wide spread infertility to control what was seen as ‘population explosion’.

From the late 1980s to the present, the cases of Nigerian couples experiencing infertility problems have been on the rise; I do not have the statistics, but the authorities ought to investigate this and find out why.

There is the current case of pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer which allegedly used Nigerian children, especially in Kano as guinea pigs to test polio drugs. Hundreds of the children either died or were deformed, while the company plays hide and seek with the victims and their families on the issue of compensation.

The most devastating disease in the last three decades is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Some five million Africans have fallen victim of the disease that first came to popular consciousness as the Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Disease (GRID) because it ravaged the American gay society.

There have been ‘scientific’ claims that HIV/AIDS was transmitted from African monkeys to humans, insinuating that it emanated from Africa. But there is widespread belief that it was manufactured in the laboratory, tested on human beings in experiments that tragically got out of hand. We may never know the veracity of such a claim, but it can be a didactic story to warn all humans that it is in our collective interest to confront the manufacture of crimes in laboratories.

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