"Shocking Experiments: AIDS Tots Used as Guinea Pigs," blared the New York Post in aFebruary 2004 headline. The story attacked the city's foster care program for allowing HIV-infected children to join trials of experimental AIDS drugs. A BBC documentary followed called Guinea Pig Kids. The press accounts luridly charged that drug developers unethically used foster children who did not have advocates to protect their rights. The story's genesis came from a misguided "denialist" who still questions whether HIV causes AIDS. The Associated Press picked up on the saga and detailed how HIV-infected kids across the United States allegedly were enrolled in trials without proper consent, leading to congressional hearings. Troubling as all this sounds, several doctors testified that enrolling the children in these trials gave them early access to medicines that saved their lives, and no evidence surfaced that any child was harmed by the trials.
Following other seemingly explosive reports by the same AP reporter, in December 2004, Rev. Jesse Jackson denounced as "a crime against humanity" a landmark drug study funded by the National Institutes of Health to prevent transmission of HIV from an infected mother to her child. Jackson compared the trial to the infamously unethical syphilis experiments in Tuskegee, Ala. In response, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation noted that this anti-HIV drug had been used on hundreds of thousands of mothers and infants "without any significant toxicity." There were problems with record-keeping at the study's trial site in Uganda. But these were publicized by the NIH and repeatedly found to have no bearing on the trial's conclusions about the drug's effectiveness or safety.