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Cambodia orders halt to HIV drug test

Cambodia orders halt to HIV drug test

Cambodia's premier ordered a halt to plans for human trials of an anti-HIV drug in his country that would have recruited hundreds of sex workers to determine if the medicine could prevent new HIV infections. Health minister Nuth Sokhom said he had been instructed by prime minister Hun Sen to stop the project that would test the drug tenofovir, sold in the United States as Viread and made by the California-based biotech company Gilead Sciences. He said the prime minister "is worried about the effect on the Cambodian people and on the human values and rights" and "is not allowing (the drug) to be tested on humans at all." Cambodia, whose health ministry had approved the project last year, currently has the highest HIV infection rate in Southeast Asia, blamed largely on its flourishing sex trade. The prime minister repeated his objection to any experiment of the anti-HIV drug on his country's citizens, first voiced in a speech last week, and said it "should be tested on animals" instead, said Nuth Sokhom. Viread is already used to treat people infected with HIV. The new test in Cambodia was aimed at determining if the drug can prevent infection in those who don't already have the disease. Partially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the proposed trial would have recruited almost 1,000 sex workers, who are at high risk for becoming infected with HIV. The trial was to have given one group Viread and another a placebo over a period of a year to see if those taking the drug had a statistically lower incidence of HIV infection. The trial was to be conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, with additional funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and Australia's University of New South Wales. Members of a local sex workers rights group, Women Network for Unity, have refused to participate in the planned study, citing a lack of insurance against potential side effects and insisting that Gilead Sciences pay for lifelong anti-HIV treatment for any study subjects who become infected during the course of the research project. Activists at last month's International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, also protested the test, saying the prospective participants were being exploited. (AP)

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