Archive for November 6th, 2012

Medical Experiments in Jordan

by Adam Nicky

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Illegitimate Children in Jordan Become Lab Rats for Pharmaceutical Companies

AMMAN – Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour made a bizarre official visit to a drugs testing laboratory within days of being appointed by King Abdullah II to lead the country through economic and political turmoil.

The liberal Ensour’s top priority is to steer the country through tricky parliament elections and tackle its economic plight.

While visiting the private hospital of al Hanan, where drug tests are conducted on illegitimate children, the premier said he wanted to make sure that testing on humans was in line with the regulations, after questions were raised over research centers’ and pharmaceutical companies’ practices.

According to Ahmed Ayasra, one of the drug-testing volunteers, the impact on health could appear in months or years to come, when it is too late to claim for compensation or even seek treatment.

The dark-skinned 24-year-old looked haggard, with sunken eyes as he spoke about his experience with the drug testing. He signed a contract worth 300 Jordanian dinars, under which he would stay a few days in a private hospital to test drugs varying from pain killers to lotions and Viagra-like drugs.

Ayasra grew up in a government care center, along with dozens of other children abandoned by their parents. He is believed to have been born as a result of an illegitimate relationship.

“I suffered from headaches and lack of sleep when they gave medication they said was a pain killer, but I’m already feeling pain in my bones and don’t feel well in general,” he told The Media Line.

Human rights activists and some of the testing subjects told The Media Line that the premier’s visit opened the public’s eyes to illegal and immoral practices by pharmaceutical companies and research centers.

Ayasra said he filed a lawsuit against the research center, but was forced to drop charges after threats by police.

“Targeting a certain group of people with limited financial income is a gross violation of human rights and should be banned,” said human rights activist Abdullah Khatib.

“While these men are over 18, they have limited, if any option but to accept being tested on. They have no food to eat, no training or proper education. This is what is illegal and immoral about this practice,” said Khatib, who is also a private physician.

Officials from the Jordan Food and Drug Administration (JFDA) said they license such tests for local companies, but only according to specific rules. The testing is conducted on behalf of international and local pharmaceutical companies.

JFDA Director General Hayel Obeidat said the government is following up on these companies’ activities and they are working within legal boundaries.

“The laboratories and hospitals are working according to international laws. We regularly monitor their activities,” he said.

However, he declined to say if the government has taken action against any research company, or if there have been violations in the past.

A spokesman for graduates of social care centers, Ala Teibi, accused pharmaceutical companies and research centers of targeting this group to avoid legal repercussions.

“The difficult economic situation among this group due to high unemployment pushes them into the arms of research centers,” he told The Media Line.

A source in a large Jordanian pharmaceutical company said the firm is trying to reproduce drugs made by international companies to sell under new brand names. He said Jordanian pharmaceutical companies are among the leading firms in the region in rebranding, but they need to test the drugs before producing them industrially.

“Jordan has a reputation of advanced pharmaceutical companies, therefore any medicine must be tested well before being exported or put on the local market,” said the source.

He noted that the government, including the Health Ministry, encourage the practice but try to impose strict conditions on testing.

Jordan’s Health Minister Abdul Latif Wreikat said such experiments are common in every country worldwide. He pointed out that the companies follow the Declaration of Helsinki – Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects. The declaration makes it a physician’s duty to promote and safeguard the health of patients, including those involved in medical research.

“Each subject receives life insurance while being tested, as well as guarantees of treatment for any side-effects that could incur as a result of the drug, and this is what is being done in Jordan,” the minister told The Media Line.

Experts say the duration of testing contracts is limited. When an experiment is completed, some of these young men spend months reeling from the effects of the drugs, while the companies involved decline to provide treatment.

For Ayasra, the future remains clouded in uncertainty as he continues to suffer new symptoms. But he is clear about one thing: “I will never accept being treated as a lab rat. I would work day and night instead. I only hope the testing will not have a detrimental impact on my health,” he concluded.

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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Brokering Votes becomes Rampant in Lead-up to Jordan’s Elections

by Adam Nicky

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

[AMMAN]  Subhi Khatib is not an activist, nor does he have a political preference. But the 45-year old Palestinian refugee nevertheless works around the clock during Jordan’s election period, brokering votes for candidates.

Khatib’s job is to locate voters from some of the 13 Palestinian refugee camps spread throughout the kingdom and sell their votes to office-seekers running in large cities.

Jordanian law allows votes to be transferred from one location to another under strict conditions, but vote-brokering is prohibited and punishable by up to two years in prison. Nevertheless, no one has ever been convicted of the practice since the law was passed and circumventing the permitted procedures is not at all uncommon.

Khatib explained that his clients are typically businessmen or individuals from the security apparatus linked to authorities who are seeking to support their favored candidates or oust those candidates’ unwanted opponents in some hotly contested districts.

“Palestinian refugee camps are seen as gold mines for votes. There are tens of thousands of votes up for grab,” said Khatib, as he sifted through a list of telephone contacts. “There are middlemen in various camps who can bring me votes whenever I need them. Some of them do not even buy the votes, but herd relatives to me – most of whom are women who are poor and uneducated,” he told The Media Line.

Jordan is scheduled to hold elections for parliament on January 23, under an amended law. The revised legislation empowers tribes loyal to the royal family and affords only minimal representation to Jordanians of Palestinian origin who have full Jordanian citizenship.

In the squalid Baqaa refugee camp, home to nearly 300,000 refugees, residents show little interest in reform protests that swept through the main cities across Jordan. Residents of refugee camps opted to maintain a low profile ever since the “Arab Spring” reached Jordan, as leaders of the Palestinian community worry their camps are not politically protected.

“We have no role in this political drama. We worry about a tough response by the security forces if we take to the streets to demand reforms,” said Helmi Samer, a camp activist who has been lobbying for an elections boycott.

“We are considered Jordanians only on election day. For rest of the year, we are treated like [the] Palestinian refugees [we are] who have no political rights,” he says, noting that Palestinian camps housing nearly one million residents are represented by only four  seats in the parliament, while a small town like Ma’an, with a population of merely 50,000 people, has five representatives in the 122-seat parliament.

Since the 1971 civil war in between Palestinian factions and the Jordanian army, authorities in Amman have systematically denied major government positions to Jordanians of Palestinian origin and have restricted the “east-bankers” from enlistment in the army and police.

Samer believes the Palestinians continue to pay the price for the civil war, even until now.

“There is a wide sense of political apathy in the refugee camps,” said Samer. “People do not care about the parliament, which has been lackluster in performance and did little to help them improve their living conditions,” he said.

Former parliamentarian Mohammad Dahrawee lashed out at the government for approving the elections law, which he says grossly under-represents Jordanian Palestinians.

“The Palestinian camps are being politically marginalized. They have the right to be part of the political picture — not observers and voters,” he said. “Justice means that the electoral system is based on population density, not on geography. The elections law reaffirms that there are two levels of citizens and our ambition to reach justice is hampered by this law that needs reform,” he told The Media Line.

Elections are boycotted by most opposition parties, including the Islamist movement and a national coalition of opposition parties, an umbrella of seven leftist parties. In the battle with the Islamist movement following opposition’s decision to boycott the elections, authorities have been reportedly utilizing connections to Fatah and other Palestinian factions to secure higher voter turn-outs.

Several Palestinian leaders from outside of Jordan, including Rajab Kadoumi, a senior Fatah leader, have held meetings in Baqaa refugee camps urging community leaders take part in the voting.

Other Fatah figures held similar meetings in the Wehdat camp near Amman, the Zarqa camp and other areas with high concentrations of Palestinian refugees.

Researcher Kamal Hudeib said refugee camps are looked at as major vote-troves for influential candidates from outside the camps, including government-linked candidates, businessmen and political parties.

“Refugee camps have become a market for [the sale of] votes,” according to Hudeib. He told The Media Line that, “Several candidates have been trying to transfer voters from the camps to their districts.”

For most of the year, vote-facilitator Khatib is jobless. He spends his time in coffee shops, sports clubs and at social gatherings in order to meet people and expand his network of potential voters. Then, when election fever hits the kingdom, Khatib becomes as busy as a bee, moving from one camp to another, meeting with scores of candidates while trying to cash-in on what he sees as a spending-bonanza by candidates.

“All eyes are now on refugee camps — not to help improve conditions, but to obtain the votes of their residents,” said Khatib.

Copyright © 2012 The Media Line. All Rights Reserved.

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