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Kenya Probes HIV-AIDS Children's Home Search by British Universities - 2004-05-24

Kenya is investigating why a Nairobi home for children with HIV-AIDS apparently allowed two British universities to conduct research on the home's children without seeking permission from the Kenyan government, as required under the country's law.

The chairman of Kenya's National Council for Science and Technology, Dr. Mohammed Abdalla, told VOA he has asked officials of Nyumbani Children's Home if they are conducting AIDS research on orphans under their care, and if so, why they did not get clearance from the council as required by law.

Dr. Abdalla says if Kenya were a western country no research would be conducted without the proper permission, especially research that involves children.

"It is the assumption that the African jungle does not have rules, so you can do anything you want," he commented.

Dr. Abdalla says the government-run council contacted the home following a recent month-long visit there by a researcher from Britain's Cambridge University.

Within the past two years, researchers from Britain's Oxford University published two papers on research done at the home. One of the studies looks at autopsy reports of children at the home to determine the cause of their deaths, the other describes the results of drug therapy treatments on children living at the home.

The home's founder and medical director, American missionary Reverend Angelo D'Agostino, is listed as an author in both Oxford papers. The first paper, published in 2002, says the Oxford researchers obtained permission from Nyumbani's internal ethical review board.

But Nyumbani's lawyer and board member, Ababu Namwamba, says it is the National Council for Science and Technology that ultimately grants permission for research in the country. He says he and Nyumbani's other board members know nothing of the research controversies and plan to discuss them at an emergency board meeting.

"The main issue will be to look at the allegations that have been made and find a way of how first of all to have a collective response as a board and number two, find out how we can get to the bottom of this," he said.

Father D'Agostino could not be reached for comment.

The chief manager at Nyumbani, Protus Lumiti, told VOA he is unable to comment until the board members hold a news conference Tuesday.

One of Kenya's daily newspapers, the Sunday Nation, reported that Mr. Lumiti said the researcher from Cambridge University visited Nyumbani last month to explore the possibility of conducting research on food supplements at the home.

Mr. Lumiti denied allegations that the researcher took blood samples during his visit. He told the Sunday Nation that Nyumbani would not conduct any research without the consent of the government, and that allegations like this have been made since the home opened 10 years ago.

Nyumbani houses 70 HIV-positive children. It also assists about 1,000 more HIV-positive children and their families through projects in low-income areas. The United States Agency for International Development is one of the donors supporting the home.