Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
TB vaccines tested on natives
Latest example of guinea-pig treatment
Historical research reveals government officials tested tuberculosis vaccines on impoverished aboriginal people during the 1930s instead of fixing poor living conditions that spread the disease.
It's another example of how officials felt they could use aboriginal people as test subjects and looked for cheap solutions instead of fixing underlying problems, says Maureen Lux, a Brock University medical historian whose research is to be released in a book early next year.
"If (a vaccine) could provide resistance to TB, then we didn't need to deal with the economic situation that was causing the problem," said Lux, who first exposed the TB tests in a 1998 paper.
Last week, it was revealed nutritional experiments were done on unwitting aboriginals in similar straits during the 1940s. The news has provoked widespread outrage and rallies across the country.
Lux, who specializes in the history of aboriginal people and the medical system, looked at conditions on reserves in the Qu'Appelle region of southern Saskatchewan in the early part of the 20th century.
"People lived in log huts," she said.
"They didn't have the cash for windows or doors. Living conditions were fairly crude."
Tuberculosis was rampant.
In 1921, officials found 92.5 per cent of aboriginal children tested positive for exposure to the infectious respiratory disease -- almost twice the percentage of non-aboriginal children. Overall health was so poor the child-mortality rate surpassed the birth rate.
Lux, whose research resurfaced in a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network earlier this week, found officials understood the link between health and living conditions.
In 1930, a showpiece settlement was built at the File Hills Farm Colony. Log huts were swapped for frame houses, new wells were dug, families were given chickens and garden seed and extra nutrition was provided to children and expectant mothers.
Tuberculosis death rates were halved. But the File Hills model wasn't followed.
"It was clear that with slightly better living conditions, tuberculosis could be dealt with," Lux said.
"But that's a fairly expensive proposition. The vaccine was a much cheaper alternative. This provided great hope for the Department of Indian Affairs and the National Research Council."
The vaccine had been previously tested on working-class children in Montreal, but researchers found it difficult to keep track of their test subjects. The Qu'Appelle aboriginals, who couldn't leave their reserves without a permit and who had high rates of infection, were thought to be just right for the job.
Between October 1933 and 1945, a total of 609 infants were involved in the tests -- half given the vaccine, half not.
Results were clear: Nearly five times as many cases of TB among the non-vaccinated children. But the real lesson from the tests was the connection between dire living conditions and overall health.
Of the 609 children in the tests, 77 were dead before their first birthday, only four of them from TB. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups had at least twice the non-tuberculosis death rate as the general population.
"The most obvious result of the... vaccine trials was that poverty, not tuberculosis, was the greatest threat to native infants."
The vaccine was judged safe and remains in use in many places today. Living conditions on reserves remained unaddressed.
"The trial was a success, but unfortunately the patients died."
-- The Canadian Press
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2013 A4
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
(1 of 38 articles for today)5:48 PM 0
VANCOUVER - A new report says research-and-rescue work on dolphins and whales at the Vancouver Aquarium could suffer if the ...
Photo Store Gallery
- RCMP in New Brunswick completes investigation in python deaths, now with Crown
- Edmonton drug dealers handing out cocaine samples to potential customers
- Survivor of plane crash, family of dead passenger still seeking damages from airline
- Can you keep a secret? Edmonton couple reveals $50M lotto win after 7 months
- Protesters denounce Israeli offensive in Gaza, call on Harper to support peace
- Canada's border agency had thousands of outdated lookout flags in system
- Death of a Quebec mayor from insect stings underscores need to be prepared
- List of charities undergoing tax audits related to political activities
- Fruit from California recalled due to possible Listeria contamination
- Suspect in Calgary stabbings sent to mental hospital for assessment
- RCMP charge Sen. Mike Duffy with fraud, breach of trust and bribery
- Ontario medical student, girlfriend among passengers of doomed Malaysian flight
- Conservative party president's 7-year-old daughter hit by minivan, killed
- Mayor of Montreal-area community dies after being stung by wasps
- Police investigate suspicious death at Pemberton, B.C. Music Festival
- Canadian teacher detained in Jakarta jail on accusations of child sexual assault
- Duffy accused of charging for personal trainer, makeup artist, funeral travel
- Big Lake Ontario shark hoax shows risks posed by viral marketing, experts say
- New report questions Canadian Ukraine election monitoring missions
- Cdns at odds with Harper gov't priorities: Finance Canada focus-group report
- Family of missing boy, grandparents won't give up on finding them alive
- Moms change diapers, Dads form leaders: Justice minister's emails to staff
- Calgary police confirm violent incident in case of missing boy, grandparents
- $20,000 per person:Activists push for guaranteed minimum income for Canadians
- 'We're lucky to have her in our lives;' baby survives crash that killed mother
- Suspect in case of missing grandparents and child to make court appearance
- Investigators bring in boat in search near Calgary-area acreage in missing family case
- Calgary police say there are other leads in case of missing boy, grandparents
- Ex-wife of B.C. homicide victim says man conned her; both appeared on Dr. Phil
- Police say search near Airdrie part of probe into missing Calgary residents
Ads by Google