(NaturalNews) Three doctors and six nurses from the town of Grudziadz, Poland, are being investigated on charges that they recruited 350 homeless people into a clinical trial of a vaccine for the H5N1 flu virus without informing them what the study was really about.
Twenty-one people died during the course of the study, significantly higher than the average influenza death rate, which would have led to eight deaths.
"It is in the interests of all doctors that those who are responsible for this are punished," said Poland's health minister, Ewa Kopacz. She said that while no direct link has been proven between the experimental vaccine and the deaths, she does not believe that any of the health care workers implicated should be allowed to practice medicine further.
Prosecutors claim that the participants - from a homeless shelter - were recruited into the study by being offered £1-£2 ($1.65-$3.00) to undergo a test of a new vaccine for standard, seasonal influenza. Instead, however, the study was meant to test a vaccine of the far more lethal H5N1 virus, which has a death rate of more than 50 percent.
Novartis Vaccines, the pharmaceutical company involved in the trial, claims that it was deceived about the consent procedures that the researchers intended to use.
The scandal is only the latest to hit Poland's health care sector. In 2002, several ambulance medics were convicted of murdering patients in order to gain kickbacks from funeral homes.
Poland is a global center for health care research, due to a well-trained medical staff, large population and good infrastructure. It also tends to be easy to find patients willing to undergo experimental therapies, as the public health care system tends to pay only for the cheapest, most well-proven generic treatments.
Monika Stefanczyk, a senior pharmaceutical market analyst at the consulting firm PMR, predicted that unless some of these factors change, Poland's medical research industry will remain largely unaffected by the scandal.