Media reports of drug trials can lack accuracy and reliability,according to a study published in the open access journal BMCInternational Health and Human Rights. Researchers say that incontroversial issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention drug trials,investigators and funders should engage with the media to avoidmisinterpretation and inaccurate reporting.
The governments of Cameroon and Cambodia cancelled planned trialsfor the antiretroviral drug tenofovir in 2004 following activist grouppressure. The trials, to investigate the use of tenofovir to preventHIV infection, and their subsequent closure, were widely covered by theinternational media. EdwardMills, from McMaster University in Canada, and colleagues from the USAand the UK found that media reports were largely inconsistent andfailed to seek primarysources for information.
Mills and colleagues studied all media reports on the closureof the two trials for tenofovir. Their study reveals that the reasonsfor the closure given by the media varied greatly and were sometimesentirely incorrect. The concerns expressed by activists andconsistently reported in the press included: a lack of medicalinsurance for trial related injuries, human rights considerations, andinadequate care for people who contract HIV during the trial.
The researchers found that out of the 36 articles about thetrials that they studied more in depth, 17 did not identify a primarysource of information, only 7 reported having interviewed a trialinvestigator or representative and only one reported having intervieweda participant to the trial. Only one report included interviews of bothtrial investigators and opponents to the trials.
This study suggests that seeking reliable primary sources ofinformation might have enabled journalists to report more accurately onthe issues surrounding thetrials. But the researchers make clear it is as much the responsibilityof the organisers of such trials to provide accurate information to themedia and the public.
"Given the potential impact of the media in formulation ofhealth policy related to HIV, efforts are needed to effectively engagethe media during periods of controversy in the HIV/AIDS epidemic",write the authors.
Media reporting of tenofovir trials in Cambodia and Cameroon
Edward Mills, Beth Rachlis, Ping Wu, Elaine Wong, Lori Heisi, Kumanan Wilson, Sonal Singh
BMC International Health and Human Rights 2005, 5:6 (24 August 2005)