Advertisements running on New Zealand radio stations have been offering New Zealanders thousands of dollars to participate in clinical trials.
The ads from firm Auckland Clinical Studies (ACS) encourage listeners to send in a text to receive further information on a clinical trial that could see them paid as much as $2500.
One woman who texted the number after hearing the ad last Tuesday on Mai FM said she received follow-up information on a range of clinical trials she could participate in – some of which pay in excess of $4000.
The woman said that work for her husband had been slow and that she was attracted by the lump-sum payment.
After making contact with ACS, the woman was informed that she would have to go through an interview process and then a series of tests to ensure she could safely complete the clinical trial.
As an extra precautionary step, she said she consulted her doctor to find out if it would be safe for her to participate in any of the trials.
Although her doctor informed her that she could safely participate in one of the trials on offer, she has since decided that she will not go ahead with the trial.
Promotions for participation in clinical trials are nothing new, with testing facilities often using ads to recruit willing subjects to participate via advertising in media and online.
These advertisements are currently widespread on New Zealand radio stations and are fully permitted under advertising rules, but they come at a time of financial hardship for many as Covid-19 impacts jobs and pay rates.
These impacts have been particularly pronounced among Māori and Pasifika families, who make up a strong contingent of the audience on Mai FM.
A spokeswoman for Mai FM owner MediaWorks stressed that the ads had been running on all the company's radio stations and that there was no targeting of Māori and Pasifika families specifically.
"Auckland Clinical Studies runs advertisements across all of our radio brands and digital platforms Newshub and ThreeNow regarding clinical trials which are highly regulated by Medsafe and the Health and Disability Commission," the spokeswoman said.
Advertising Standards Association chief executive Hilary Souter says she has received no complaints about any Auckland Clinical Studies promotions, but said it was worth asking whether any consideration was taken on the impact this type of advertising on listeners who might be in a vulnerable financial position.
ACS has not yet responded to the Herald's questions.
Asked for his view on the ethical implications of running these ads at a time when New Zealanders might be struggling financially, Massey University communications expert Dr Chris Galloway said that while researchers are justified in their efforts to recruit participants for important clinical trials, the timing of the advertising in this instance does raise a few questions.
"When you consider that people might be adversely affected by the impact of Covid-19, there needs to be greater sensitivity than usual especially when there are cash incentives," said Galloway.
"You have to ask whether this is the right time to be offering these incentives to people."