“Damned philistino-medico

Student crew

The whole world’s just

A bag of bones to you

                 – Karl Marx

Media reports (Millennium Post, 6 February, 2020) indicate:

“The Drug Controller General of India has approved the “restricted use” of a combination of drugs used widely for controlling HIV infection in public health emergency for treating those affected by novel coronavirus (nCoV), official sources said on Wednesday.

According to government sources, apex health research body Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had sought an emergency approval from the DCGI for the “restricted use” of the combination of two medications – lopinavir and ritonavir – for treatment of this respiratory ailment.”

There is no need to resort to irrational use of untested medicines. Isolation of nCoV positive patients at home/hospital is sufficient to tide over the epidemic; there is no preventive vaccine or curative medicine available. But that does not permit doctors to throw ethics to the wind; and bury the Hippocrates oath six fathoms deep. The ICMR would – rather should – know that there is the long, necessary process before a green signal is given for a drug to be used on patients afflicted by a hitherto unknown disease. It is expressly forbidden to use a drug meant for one ailment for another new disease without the necessary clinical trials – in test tubes, on experimental animals and then human trials. There is no short cut.

It may be recalled that when the AIDS pandemic arrived, drugs meant for cancer discovered in 1960s were being touted as treatment for HIV+ people!! Presently drugs meant for other viral outbreaks are being advocated for the nCoV epidemic. These drugs may still work eventually but the necessary trials cannot be bypassed. Science should not replaced with quackery/magic craft.

In this whole endeavour the role of preventive vaccines and medicines gets overstated. Recall that the very first vaccine – BCG vaccine – made available in allopathy was for tuberculosis (TB). Its efficacy was proved in 1921; the first drug, streptomycin to be used against TB was discovered in 1944. Yet this disease has not been eradicated till date. Walksman who discovered streptomycin was awarded a Nobel prize for medicine in 1952 and he authored a book in 1965 titled ‘The Conquest of Tuberculosis’; 55 years later Walksman – posthumously – though has to eat a humble pie. The people of USA were in for a rude shock when TB reappeared there consequent to the AIDS outbreak in 1980s. A large number of people died in USA due to inter alia lung TB, fungal infection of lungs as a consequence of HIV infection leading to AIDS. No one had envisaged that a viral infection with HIV would lead to reemergence of TB caused by a bacteria. In fact in 1980s TB re-emerged in most countries of the world. In 1993 the WHO declared TB to be a global emergency. So much for the conquest of TB as prophesized by a Nobel Laureate. Keep in mind that the bacteria causing TB was discovered in 1882!

The discovery of medicines/vaccines does nor necessarily eradicate the diseases for which the discoveries were made. It would be wise for the medical personnel to indulge in masterly inactivity in the wake of newer epidemics appearing in the future; of course the bare basic scientific principles would have to be followed in many such futuristic situations. Men and women trained in scientific methods should not let the ‘primordial fear’ surface from there subconscious mind; because that would signal the end of enquiry into truth.

Meanwhile media reports indicate that consent of nCoV patients would be taken to administer drugs which have not been subjected to clinical trials earlier. But what is the value of consent obtained from patients who are quarantined/detained without even a specific law in existence? Cases have been reported in India where policemen have witch-hunted, targeted, searched for specific people and then forcibly quarantined and tested them for nCoV. What about the civil liberties and democratic rights of these people? All this is allowed to happen when hardly anything is known about the nCoV – not even its incubation period; there is no certainty whether bats, snakes or something else is the culprit; who knows that apart from the nCoV there is a hitherto undiscovered co-factor and the two together cause the disease.

In India majority of those detained would have been unnecessarily quarantined. Would the State compensate them? Besides there is a question of side effects of the untested drugs planned to be used on nCoV positive patients. No one knows for long these are to be continued.

The MNCs are salivating all over as health authorities – and not just in India – have been pressurized to administer untested drugs. There is additionally a rat race amongst scientists in the best of the research institutes world wide to discover a vaccine or curative medicine for the nCoV so that their respective lobbyists could get a head start in planning for the nomination for the next Nobel prize in medicine.

Ivan Illich was right. The biggest threat to the health of the people is from the medical profession.

[Dr. P. S. Sahni, member ABVA; Senior Research Fellow, ICMR:1981-82, posted at Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi; Research Associate, ICMR 1982-83, posted at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi. Email: aidsbhedbhavvirodhiandolan@gmail.com]


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