Mystery study

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Tennyson Springer

The Ministry of Health is officially probing the existence of a controversial asthma study purportedly done in Barbados and involving a famous American physician.

But amid continued external queries about whether the research “followed legal and ethical guidelines”, Acting Permanent Secretary Tennyson Springer said initial investigations had found no evidence of its existence.

For the past several months Peter Heimlich, son of Henry Heimlich who is widely credited with developing the “choking rescue treatment” called the Heimlich Manoeuvre, has been requesting information from the Ministry of Health on the study.

He wrote both current Minister of Health John Boyce on March 24 and his predecessor Donville Inniss, now Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, February 12 and formally requested an enquiry on the matter.

Last month Springer responded on the Ministry of Health’s behalf and told the younger Heimlich that there was no knowledge of the study which was said to have involved 67 minors.

“The delay in responding to your correspondence of February 12, 2013 and addressed to the Hon. Donville Inniss is regretted. Minister Inniss is no longer with the Ministry of Health. Despite the changes I wish to acknowledged receipt of your correspondence and inform you that the matter is being investigated,” Springer said in his July 10 letter.

“So far, there has been no institutional memory or documentation of this research. However, the Ministry of Health will continue to probe into this alleged project. You can be assured that there will be no hesitation to contact you if information becomes available,” he added.

The research in question reportedly focussed on using the Heimlich Manoeuvre to help manage asthma in pediatric patients.

Heimlich junior, who went public last evening with the latest response from Barbadians officials, previously said he had found no evidence of wrongdoing but wanted to “verify” that the study was approved by the Ministry of Health’s Ethics Board and overseen by an institutional review board.

His specific questions to the minister of health were:

* Was the study approved by the Ministry of Health’s ethics committee? If so, on what date? And who was in charge of the committee?

* Would your office please obtain the name of the institutional review board and the name of the individual in charge of the board and provide the information to me?

* Would your office please direct me to or provide me with a copy of all guidelines regarding the use of human subjects for medical research conducted in Barbados?

* Would your office please provide me with a determination whether or not the “Heimlich Manoeuvre for asthma” study was conducted in compliance with those guidelines?

Information previously released by him said the Barbados study “consisted of 67 patients aged six to 16 years with a control group of 34 patients and a study group of 33 patients”.

Its purpose was to “determine the usefulness of a modified Heimlich Manoeuvre for treatment of asthma in Barbados”.

An abstract of the study concluded that it “provided data to support the potential benefits of the modified Heimlich Manoeuvre as adjunctive therapy for asthma, with a consistent improvement in objective parameters of spirometry, subjective symptom scores and quality of life assessment”.

Heimlich has argued that although since 1986 his father promoted using the Heimlich manoeuvre to treat asthma, “asthma experts have stated that the treatment has no merit and may, in fact, be harmful — even lethal”. (SC)

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