(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Let’s say you are confused and scared.
Confused, because you read the cure of Corona Virus is imminent. Call it tablets, vials, plasma, vaccine—all would knock at your door with the good news soon. But then the World Health Organization (WHO) or The Lancet would pour a bucket of ice water to leave you stone cold.
Scared, because if the Aarogya Setu App flashes a “high risk” alert on your mobile, the sequence thereafter would be somewhat this: 1-Scan down the hospital of your choice; 2-Hope your testing is shown negative after a mile-long queue; 3-And if positive, worry if you have a home or hospital quarantine in front; 4- If latter, wave your near-and-dears a tearful bye-bye; 5-Multiple tests and X-rays of lungs, hearts, brain etc roll of the tongue of paramedical staff; 6-And, hopefully a fortnight-later return into the arms of your family with your bank account a few lakhs lighter.
In this madness, you of course won’t remember that a month ago, there was this Dexamethasone tablet/injection, which was hailed a breakthrough by the medical community. A few researchers in the United Kingdom had tried it on over 2,000 patients and found that it reduced the death risk by over one-third. It essentially is a steroid since 1977, available over the counter world over, and costs a pack of a cigarette. The common-sense approach was, if Dexamethasone reduces inflammation, and Corona Virus inflames its victims to the point where they are choked to death, why not give it a try? And it worked.
This week, Cipla, an Indian manufacturer, rolled Remdesivir vials into the market. It’s being hailed as a Corona Virus breakthrough. But Ganesan Karthikeyan, a professor of cardiology at the All-India Institute of Media Sciences (AIMS) writes that all it does is to reduce the duration of hospital stay by four days without any significant effect on dying from Covid-19. Yet Remdesivir is being accorded a hero’s welcome. If it was a movie star, the entire country would be at its gate. A course of treatment would cost tens of thousands of rupees.
Then there is Satyendra Jain. Now come on, don’t say that you haven’t heard of Delhi’s health minister. He literally has put a Plasma Therapy in the midst of gods in his puja room. He was detected as positive and today credits the Plasma Therapy for his life saved. All it does is to take the blood of recovered patients and inject it in patients under care. Again, like Remdesivir, it’s not a cure. It just boosts your ability to fight the virus. Karthikeyan says it’s an expensive proposition.
Who do you think you should opt for if, god forbids, Corona makes you its home? Dexamethasone of course. It’s cheap, is vindicated by trials, and even the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t fault it. As per WHO website, “the (Dexamethasone) treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one-third…it’s been on the WHO model list of Essential Medicines since 1977…Dexamethasone is generally safe and is not generally associated with side-effects.”
Now why do you think Dexamethasone is not even discussed on national prime time television and media? It’s been simply wiped clean of our collective memory. It’s not in public discourse. Now before you jump to the logical corollary of Big Bad Pharma, I want you to consider a few facts.
The US pharma industry, the daddy of all, is bigger than all the nations and their GDPs barring the top 20. It’s touching $600 billion. Every year, millions are spent on pharma breakthroughs in research labs and fields. Those big research centres, filled with futuristic pipes and flasks and scientists bent over them in tons of protective clothing and face shields, peering through a microscope, dissecting the future of human race.
These millions of investments in research and salaries are backed by even bigger expenditure of millions on Direct-To-Customer Advertising (DTCA) in which a pharma company is allowed to reach the consumer directly through advertising, bypassing prescriptions and doctors at the bend of your colony. These medicines are shown to be of magical proportions on the broadcasting waves and newspaper print. It gives you a sell on how to grow your hair (when a smart Rs 500 hat would do the job); how to increase your libido (when all you needed was to relax in a mating session) and how to increase your hearing (when a sustained brush of an earbud could suffice).
Before long, the sustained noise has got you. You either buy over the counter and insist your physician gives the prescription of drugs you desire. Not that this physician minds. One of big Pharmas marketing expenses included hiring those attractive medical representatives who come to a physician with the new wonder drug and a prescription pad. The top guys get a free ticket to Hawaii, a golf course voucher, and accompanying fun in the evenings after the Seminars around the world which of course are hosted by these big pharmas under the cloak of some moral compass. That’s how pharmas are growing bigger even in country with the best healthcare system. What is saved from a patient’s pocket is paid by the insurance company.
So if you are confused and scared, there is a rationale. Big Pharma expenses are met by your pockets. India of course doesn’t allow direct advertising by Pharma, and thank god for it, but your billion-plus fellow citizens are in the eye of the Pharma sharks. Cheap solution to Corona Virus is not in their interest. So, god forbids, if you have tested Positive and found yourself on your doctor’s couch, ask him this simple question: Why he thinks Remdesivir or Plasma Therapy is better than Dexamethasone? Perhaps, knowledge is the best cure.
Incidentally, India supplies over 50 percent of generic drugs which the world needs. It’s 40% of all generic demand in the US and 25% of all medicine in the UK. It also supplies 50% of global demand for various vaccines. It’s a robust sector for India, an export worth $21 billion. India’s pharmaceutical sector is expected to cross $100 billion by 2025. Yet its media is busy rubbishing Covaxin and Coronoil, two home-made breakthroughs. Perhaps we are the suckers they think we are.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Indian Express is breathless. It has two Front Page stories today on a Corona-Vaccine claim by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), made a few hours ago.
ICMR, in its Thursday letter, had claimed that it has partnered Bharat Biotech in developing an indigenous Corona Vaccine—Covaxin–which it plans to introduce for masses after Phase I and Phase II human trials by August 15. It has asked the 12 selected hospitals to make haste in view of “public health emergency.”
The headline of the first Indian Express story: “Vaccine by August 15: Scientists say ICMR claim absurd and risky” suggests that ICMR claim is “absurd.” That this apparently is backed by “scientists.”
In this long, long story, I couldn’t find one instance/quote which claimed that the Covaxin claim by the ICMR is “absurd.” As for “scientists” Express has mentioned in the headline, there is only one “scientist” who figures in the text. He is some Shaheed Jameel of Wellcome Trust-DBT Alliance. Shaheed too hasn’t stuck his neck out that the ICMR claim is “absurd.” All he has said that the August 15 deadline is “ridiculous.”
So two things in the story work against the Indian Express’ projection in the headline: One, the Covaxin claim is “absurd”; Two, it’s just a scientist, and not scientists, as revealed in the text.
The national newspaper is also livid that only six of the 12 selected hospitals have received approval by the institutional ethics committee. It also claims that these six hospitals, are relatively “lesser-known.” So, probably ICMR, the apex body in India, one of the oldest and largest research institutions in the world, should’ve consulted Indian Express. The newspaper also can’t wait before the other six hospitals receive the approval.
The second Front Page story is headlined: “Some hospitals selected for clinical trials caution against ‘impossible’ timeline.” Take time out to read the story, folks. Against “impossible” of two voices, there are several more who have said they would do their best. Some have said “they would try their best to comply (with ICMR)”; Others “This is an emergency situation and we can’t lose people”; Still others, “He has been getting calls from people wanting to be part o the trial:” Still others, “It was possible to generate some data on 100 or more subjects by August 15.” Several hospitals, as per Indian Express itself, “are now reaching out to health workers, posting messages on WhatsApp groups and making phone calls for healthy volunteers.”
The crux of Indian Express outrage is that ICMR is putting a deadline of August 15, 2020 for the launch of Covaxin when human trials of all three phases aren’t feasible within this timeframe. It puts ICMR in the dock. The only problem is: Indian Express hasn’t sought a clarification from the ICMR itself. It hasn’t mentioned that it sought out ICMR for its reaction and they said “no comment.”
The truth is ICMR has been quick to clarify. Times of India have mentioned “officials who have said the healthy ministry had asked ICMR about the letter and was informed that the objective was to speed up the processes relating to vaccine development rather than set any deadlines. ICMR officials told Times of India: “We need the vaccine at the earliest and that was what ICMR wanted to convey…no deadline was being set.”
Now let me take readers to another incident. When Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali claimed that it had made a breakthrough in an immunity medicine for Corona Virus pandemic, the censorious Indian Express, again within hours, had written an editorial on June 26, 2020. It claimed that the company had “discredited” Ayurveda and it’s one of “litany of Patanjali unethical practices.” Now Patanjali’s Coronil is about to hit the market. The medicine was for “management” and not a “cure” in itself but undue confusion and doubts were created to malign them, as Baba Ramdev was to say later. The unputdownable Baba also said that the “drug mafia and multi-national companies were not able to accept the work being done by Patanjali Yogpeeth.” As per Baba Ramdev: “The drug mafia, MNCs and anti-national forces want me in jail.”
I am not saying that Indian Express is hand-in-gloves with the drug mafia. I am also not suggesting that Indian Express is an anti-national force. All I am saying is that the cardinal rules of journalism are being flouted by the “Journalism of Courage.” All it needed to do was to dial up ICMR and seek their views which were easily available.
That’s minimum you need to do when you have plans for two front-page stories against one of the leading medical institutions of the world. Similarly, with Patanjali’s Coronil approval now, the newspaper needed to acknowledge its mistake-in-haste to its readers. After all, at stake is a solution to a deadly pandemic, thousands of endangered human lives, and even the immediate future of India. Indian Express could have been more responsible—and restrained—in their diatribe. It could have done better.