Brazilian Senator Cristovam Buarque (PDT party, Federal District), president of the Senate Human Rights Commission, believes that the research on malaria, supposedly involving human subjects, may not have occurred only in the state of Amapá, in the North of Brazil.
The cases made public happened in the riverside communities of São Raimundo do Pirativa and São João do Matapim, in Amapá. "There is no reason for this to have happened only in Amapá," he affirmed in an interview on Sunday, January 8.
The senator visited the communities, where the inhabitants recounted their participation in the study. According to Buarque, they said they received between US$ 5.30 (R$ 12) and US$ 8.84 (R$ 20) to be bitten daily by 100 mosquitoes.
The research project was formulated by the University of Florida and had US$ 1 million in funding from the United States National Health Institutes (NIH). The Oswaldo Cruz Institute Foundation (Fiocruz), the University of São Paulo (USP), and the National Health Foundation (FUNASA) were in charge of coordinating the project in Brazil.
Buarque emphasized that the document was approved by the National Ethics in Research Commission (CONEP), because the Portuguese version of the project did not refer to the use of human subjects.
"It only provided for catching the mosquitoes when they landed on people’s legs, before they bit. That’s what was in the document," he said.
In this case the local inhabitants would be used as "bait." "When you use someone to attract the mosquito and catch it, the person is acting as bait. But when you use someone to be bitten, he becomes a guinea pig."
The senator affirmed that he does not wish to cause a "panic" over research in general, since such studies are important to scientific development.
"If we discover a vaccine against malaria, it will be an immense benefit. We don’t wish to arouse a phobia against research," he remarked, adding that it should be done in accordance with the law.
Buarque informed that he plans to convoke a public hearing in Congress to discuss the matter. "If we don’t take immediate measures, we run the risk that other Brazilian groups will continue to offer up their health in exchange for R$ 10 to R$ 20," he pointed out. The hearing is expected to take place in the second half of February or the first week of March.
As for punishing those who are responsible for the research involving the Amapá riverside dwellers, the senator affirmed that there is no specific crime in Brazilian law with which to charge them.
"It would not be directly related to the dramatic, ethical fact of using people as guinea pigs. But, rather, just as if someone suffered a slight wound by being induced into error, the penalties will be very light," he informed.