There has been a surge in students willing to be a part of medical trials in exchange for financial payment.
Students are paid as much as £3500 to be infected with diseases such as typhoid, malaria and pneumonia, in what are known as “challenge trials”. A fiscally viable opportunity all those involved, these challenge trials reduce the cost of field studies and help students continue their studies through the relief of financial pressure.
Many of these trials occur in top Russell group universities such as Oxford University and Imperial College London. In the last 8 years, a study at Oxford university has had 450 participants with around 50% of them students.
Matthew Speight, a 27-year-old zoologist currently studying at Oxford university, took part in two typhoid trials earning himself a substantial £6,000.
Speight described the trials as the worst experiences of his life, as he suffered from typical symptoms of the disease that kills an estimated 160,000 each year and affects up to 12 million people. Symptoms include prolonged fever, headaches and excessive sweating, alongside constipation or diarrhoea. More complicated and serious cases can lead to death. This particular typhoid trial is an attempt to find a more efficient vaccine, as the current one that exists isn’t very effective with children and only provides protection for a few years.
It’s evident that these trials aren’t as easy as they may appear to be, however, Speight remains positive about the trials, concluding that he strongly believes in the potential life-saving abilities of the vaccine that is being tested on him.
The vaccine tested on Speight has now been given out to 89,000 Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Malawian children in an attempt to halt the spread of typhoid.
Trials on humans have proven to be polemic in the past. In 2006, a UK drug trial led half a dozen healthy men to intensive care after a trial involving the testing of an anti-inflammatory drug. One of the participant of that particular trial enthusiastically boasted about how he earned up to £60,000 in a year of trials.
This then raises the question: Is it ethical to test on humans when it appears that those who partake are in financial need?
Many people that are considered to be vulnerable by the Journal of Medical Ethics are largely ill, elderly, young, women, racial or ethnic minorities or those educationally and economically disadvantaged. However, if those considered vulnerable were excluded from being tested on, it would make the scientific findings very generalised and not all that helpful in anomalous cases as they are testing on such a limited range.
Moreover, concerns have been assuaged regarding the level of risk and the amount of money received. Participants are paid for discomfort and time (with hospital admissions earning you more compared to check-up appointments) rather than higher risk situations, in an attempt to exempt vulnerable participants from seeking riskier studies in order to earn more.
Although these challenge trials are apparently ethically watertight, is risking your health and wellbeing worth the money you get in exchange? Is there any amount of money worth being in a coma for?
Beatriz Casarrubios Lopez