Guinea Pig Kids 
The NYT covers a GNNer's scoop about powerful AIDS drugs forced on orphans - and gets it wrong
On April 23, The New York Times got around to covering a scandal that has been sitting in their backyard for two years.

Times reporter Leslie Kaufman writes in an article entitled “Private Firm to Investigate AIDS Charges Against City” that New York City’s “Administration for Children’s Services has hired an outside research firm to investigate allegations that the city inappropriately put foster children into medical trials for AIDS drugs in the 1980’s and 1990’s and that foster parents who objected to the trials lost custody of the children.”

In December 2003, I first broke the story of the drug trials in an article entitled “The House That AIDS Built” on Altheal.org, a site dedicated to not towing the conventional line about the HIV/AIDS paradigm. I’d spent the last half of 2003 investigating Incarnation Children’s Center (ICC), the facility where the trials took place. My reporting included going undercover inside the center.

At the time, the ICC made it clear on its (now re-written) web site that the orphanage was enrolling its child population in NIH clinical trials. The NIH database listed dozens of studies, including trials of up to “seven drugs in combination on 4 to 21 year olds.” The studies all rotated through three classes of drugs:

– AZT and its analogues (nucleosides) which block the replication of cells at the genetic level, and suppress/destroy bone marrow

– Nevirapine and its analogues (which block the normal functioning of cellular DNA and RNA)

– Protease inhibitors (which block the assemblage of proteins in the body)

I noted in my original investigation:

“In New York’s Washington Heights is a 4-story brick building called Incarnation Children’s Center (ICC). This former convent houses a revolving stable of children who’ve been removed from their own homes by the Agency for Child Services. These children are black, Hispanic and poor. Many of their mothers had a history of drug abuse and have died. Once taken into ICC, the children become subjects of drug trials sponsored by NIAID (National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, a division of the NIH), NICHD (the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) in conjunction with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies – GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Genentech, Chiron/Biocine and others.”

In July 2004, I followed up my original article with cover story for The New York Press entitled “Orphans On Trial.” At the same time, I was working with an independent film company to get the story on the BBC. The BBC documentary, “Guinea Pig Kids,” aired in November 2004.

I was also contacted by reporters from the New York Post and London Observer, both of whom interviewed me and published their own versions of the story.

In her piece, the Times’ Kaufman writes that “about 465 children had taken part in the trials between 1988 and 2001, with most participating before current treatments for AIDS became commonly available.”

While the number of participants is smaller than the almost 18,000 children and pregnant women, who, according to the NIH, have participated in PACTG [Pediatric AIDS Clinical Trial Group, a subdivision of the NIH] studies since 1986, it is larger than what has been previously admitted by New York’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

The statement about the bulk of the studies occurring “before current treatments for AIDS became commonly available” is not in line with the historical or medical record. The trials at ICC (and its parent hospital, Columbia Presbyterian) have spanned ten years. The drugs fed to the children have always been the same drugs that were being dumped into the market at any given time – AZT, Nevirapine, Protease Inhibitors, Bactrim, etc – the drugs that are currently used around the world on people who are believed to be HIV positive. If they were fed to adults, they were tested on children at ICC.

The Times also left out the fact that the drugs were often administered through tubes in the children’s stomachs, which frequently became infected.

The Times credited the original story to the New York Post, whose reporter, Douglas Montero, contacted me in January/February 2004 after reading “The House That AIDS Built.” Montero only later revealed that I was his main source for the story after I called his boss to complain. This was reported in May 2004, in A&U (Arts and Understanding) Magazine in a piece by Patricia Nell Warren.

The current New York Times piece does not mention my reporting or the BBC documentary – which featured interviews with parents, children and ACS workers who had grievances or concerns about the forced-drugging. But the article did quote the new director of ACS as saying “that exhaustive reviews of available records had produced no evidence that the agency [ACS] acted wrongly.”

Forced drugging, multiple and repeat enrollment of infants, children and teenagers in drug studies, forced-surgery, removal of children from their homes for refusing to take AIDS drugs (all of which I documented in my original investigation) – does this equal “no evidence” of wrong-doing?

So what will the city’s independent investigation reveal? It looks like they’ve already made up their minds. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed, just for luck.

GNN contributor Liam Scheff is an investigative journalist who’s been published in the New York Press, LA Citybeat and Boston’s Weekly Dig.