Orphans and babies as young as three months old have been used as guinea pigs in potentially dangerous medical experiments sponsored by a giant pharmaceutical company.
British giant GlaxoSmithKline is embroiled in the scandal.
The firm sponsored experiments on the children from Incarnation Children's Center, a New York care home that specializes in treating HIV sufferers and is run by Catholic charities.
The children had either been infected with HIV or born to HIV-positive mothers.
Their parents were dead, untraceable or deemed unfit to look after them.
According to documents, Glaxo has sponsored at least four medical trials since 1995 using Hispanic and black children at Incarnation.
The documents give details of all clinical trials in the US and reveal that the experiments sponsored by Glaxo were designed to test the "safety and tolerance" of AIDS medications, some of which have potentially dangerous side effects.
Glaxo manufactures a number of drugs designed to treat HIV, including AZT.
Normally, trials on children would require parental consent but, as the infants are in care, New York's authorities hold that role.
The city health department has launched an investigation into claims that more than 100 children at Incarnation were used in 36 experiments -- at least four of them co-sponsored by Glaxo.
Some of these trials were designed to test the "toxicity" of AIDS medications.
One involved giving children as young as 4 years old a high-dosage cocktail of seven drugs at one time.
Another looked at the reaction in six-month-old babies to a double dose of measles vaccine.
Most experiments were funded by federal agencies like the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Until now Glaxo's role had not emerged.
In 1997 an experiment co-sponsored by Glaxo used children from Incarnation to "obtain tolerance, safety and pharmacokinetic" data for herpes drugs.
In a more recent experiment, the children were used to test the drug AZT.
A third experiment sponsored by Glaxo and US drug firm Pfizer investigated the "long-term safety" of anti-bacterial drugs on three-month-old babies.
The medical establishment has defended the trials, arguing they enabled these children to obtain state-of-the-art therapy that they would otherwise not have received for illnesses that could potentially be fatal.
However, health campaigners argue there is a difference between providing the latest drugs and experimentation.
They claim many of the experiments were "phase 1 trials" -- among the most risky.
They also claim that HIV tests for babies are not a reliable indicator of actual infection and therefore toxic drugs could have been given to healthy infants. HIV drugs are similar to those used in chemotherapy and can have serious side effects.
Vera Sharav, president of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, said the children had been treated like "laboratory animals."
"These are some of the most vulnerable individuals in the country and there appears to be a policy of giving drug firms access to them," she said.
"Throughout the history of medical research we have seen prisoners abused, the mentally ill abused and now poor kids in a care home," she said.
Sharav has urged the US Food and Drug Administration to investigate and has demanded complete disclosure of all adverse effects suffered by the children, including deaths.