Friday, September 15, 2006

Nepali primates used for US research

<span style="font-style:italic;">Samples taken for AIDS vaccine, keeping govt in dark

Razen Manandhar

Kathmandu, September 14 [2006]:
The controversial testing of monkeys three years ago by US primatologists in the capital was not what it was made out to be. In actuality, the monkeys were used as guinea pigs for developing AIDS vaccine, reveals the cover story of a recent issue of the American Journal of Primatology.
More than 20 red monkeys, known as rhesus macaques, were darted and trapped to have their blood, stool, swap and hair tested in June 2003 at Swoyambhu temple on the pretext that the monkeys had fallen ill mysteriously. A team of American experts came here without the knowledge of the government and returned with the samples, without providing any treatment to the mammals.
Article 15.1 of the National Park and Wildlife Conservation Act 2029 (Fourth amendment 2049) states that nobody can collect samples from any animal for scientific research. However, permission for the same can be sought from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) after paying Rs 2,000 for each red monkey and justifying the need for the test. But, according to the government officials, the researchers did not even notify the authority about their ‘testing’.
The synopsis of the report carried by American Journal of Primatology in June, states: “Scientists investigating the genetic make up of rhesus macaque monkeys, a key species used in biomedical research, have found that rhesus in Nepal may provide a suitable alternative to alleviate a critical shortage of laboratory animals used in work to develop vaccines against diseases such as HIV/AIDS.”
According to the report, the study was spearheaded by Randall Kyes, a primatologist and head of the of the University of Washington’s Division of International Programmes at the Washington National Primate Research Centre, in collaboration with Mukesh Chalise, president of the Nepali Biodiversity Research Society and a zoologist at Tribhuvan University.
When contacted, Chalise said, “I don’t have to answer any queries. The chapter is closed. You may charge me of anything but I believe that I have done a good job for mankind by letting carry out the tests,” he said.
The Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has also refused to take responsibility of “unauthorised testing”. Shyam Bajimaya, the Chief Ecologist at the DNPWC, said the matter did not concern the department, as no one contacted the officials for carrying out the tests. “Even for a noble cause, it would have been better had the researchers chosen a legitimate way,” he said.
Though the American journal report acknowledges Bajimaya as one of the co-author of the research paper, he wonders, “I don’t know how my name figures in the report.”
Similar tests used to be carried out on Indian monkeys earlier. However, India banned export of all macaques in 1978.