Oh I wish i had the runs…

30 Sep

A German couple arrived in our hostal this week with an interesting tale to tell, one that was set to make me envious. The young backpackers from Hamburg disclosed that they had been paid over €1500 to spend a few weeks traveling in Mexico and Central America in return for participating in a travelers’ diarrhoea vaccination trial. That’s right, not only were they given a free holiday courtesy of Big Pharma, they were also given the opportunity to enjoy it diarrhoea-free. Yes, they had to keep a poo-diary, recording the consistency of their bowel movements, and be in certain cities on certain dates to give stool samples to designated hospitals and medical clinics. But this is a relatively light workload for the compensation they were to receive. Oh and if thee Germans do get diarrhoea during their time in Central America, they get paid an additional $USD20 for each day that they suffer from the affliction.

By now a lot of backpackers following the gringo trail through Mexico and Guatemala have heard of the vaccination trial. Rumors about the trial abound, including that only Europeans are permitted to participate. Many still refuse to believe that the trial isn’t bullshit, since when most things sound as though they are too good be true in this life, they usually are. But this trial is an exception to the rule; it exists, and a whole lot of lucky people are benefiting from this scheme.

Sadly I don’t qualify for the study on a number of grounds. I am pretty sure that I have been immunised against cholera. I have also had the misfortune of suffering from diarroeah in a developing country at least once in the last twelve months (and I don’t think the trial doctors or anyone else would believe me if I told them otherwise). However someone involved in the Guatemalan component of the trial did drop into my hostal the other day and handed me a business card for a doctor’s clinic. It said that if I get the runs I can turn up at the clinic for completely free treatment, and $USD 120 cash in return for participating in the study. Well I am in town for a few more days so you never know, maybe I will still have the chance to profit from my poo. If not, I may have the chance in the future to benefit from the vaccine.

When I first head about the vaccine, I optimistically imagined that it might be able to be used to prevent diarroeah amongst the local population. Such a medical breakthrough could significantly reduce the infant mortality rate in Guatemala and other developing countries where too many children die from bad bouts of gastro. However I was shut-down by the North American medical students studying Spanish in Xela. They told me that the parasites that give travelers diarroeah are different to those that make locals sick. Because there big profit motive for Big Pharma to develop and sell a vaccine for travelers’ diarroeah, they are investing in creating one. Comparatively a vaccine for locals wouldn’t generate a lot of money, so we are unlikely to see one any time soon.

For more information about the trial check out the trial website.

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