Major Unethical Medical Experiments That Rocked Zimbabwe

By Michael Gwarisa

Ethics can be defined as principles of morality, particularly those dealing with right or wrong of an action. Just like any profession, medical practitioners are expected to adhere to ethical practices in their day to day conduct as the profession involves saving lives and restoring hope in people. The profession is more than just a white coat where professionalism should transcend technical expertise.

A report on Ethics in the medical field by Avalon University states that Ethical practices lead to more informed decisions, fewer errors, and better patient outcomes. The report noted that upholding ethical and professional standards strengthens public trust in the medical profession.

However, as noble as it is, the medical field is not immune to scandal and unethical behavior as practitioners at times find themselves wanting. Evidence shows incidences whereby medical practitioners engaged in unethical practices that either compromised health outcomes, or in some instances led to the death of patients or research subjects under their watch.

One well-documented unethical experiment is the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, also known as the Tuskegee syphilis study or Public Health Service syphilis study. This was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.

The study continued, under numerous US Public Health Service supervisors, until 1972, when a leak to the press eventually resulted in its termination. The victims of the study included numerous men who died of syphilis, wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study cited as “arguably the most infamous biomedical research study in U.S. history,” led to the 1979 Belmont Report and the establishment of the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP).

Back home in Zimbabwe, numerous ethical experiments by medical personnel have been documented over the years. Below are some of the infamous medical experiments that claimed lives and made waves in Zimbabwe back in the day. These articles were compiled from previous news reports and records.

1.) Michael Joseph Swango (The Butcher On Munene Mission Hospital)

Dr Michael Joseph Swango was an American doctor who is estimated to have fatally poisoned as many as 60 people in different countries. According to an article in The Chronicle, Dr Swango killed five people at Munene Hospital even though villagers say the number is closer to ten. He was reported to be a fan of torture books and films and Wikipedia estimates that he might have killed 60 people through fatal poisonings of patients and colleagues in the United States and Zimbabwe, although he admitted to causing only four deaths.

2.) Dr Richard McGown (Dr Death)

Also known as Dr Death, Dr Richard McGown, is a Scottish-Zimbabwean former anaesthetist, murderer, and suspected serial killer. He was found guilty of murdering two children from 1986 to 1992 by injecting large amounts of morphine into their bodies but is suspected of murdering at least three others as well. He was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to a year in prison, after which he was released and returned to the UK. McGown eventually developed a deep interest in post-operative pain relief and decided to begin experimenting with new drugs and anesthetics in 1981 on his predominantly underage black patients. From 1986 to 1992, he performed his method on 500 patients without their knowledge. Among his victims were 10-year-old Kenyan-born girl Lavender Khaminwa (who died following a supposed appendectomy) and two and a half years old Kalpesh Nagindas, a Zimbabwean boy of Indian origin. Nagindas had been admitted to the Avenues Clinic in Harare on 13 July 1988 for a circumcision because he had problems urinating. Instead, the toddler’s spine was injected with morphine to supposedly relieve the pain after the operation.

3.) Dr George Turner, Zimbabwe

Dr Truner, a Zimbabwean Doctor allegedly killed 13 patients, most of them suffering from AIDS, by administering to them an experimental drug he was developing, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported . The paper said George Turner allegedly injected the patients with the drug even after his experiments on two dogs and a pig resulted in the deaths of the animals shortly after the drug had been administered to them.

These were some of the biggest medical scandals recorded in Zimbabwe. However, some medical experiments such as the Parasites of Mavhida Zimbabwe among others,  have also been recorded as unethical experiments that put the lives of innocent Zimbabweans in harms way.

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