The manner in which President Trump appears to be recovering from his bout with the novel coronavirus indicates that the treatment route should not be neglected by policymakers any longer. For India to become the global factory for Covid-19 drugs requires action by PM Modi.
New Delhi: Almost the same cast of characters who at great expense of money and time failed in the past to develop a vaccine for HIV/AIDS is now in the front line of the search for a Covid-19 vaccine. HIV/AIDS is a fast-mutating virus that defied efforts to create a vaccine that could generate antibodies to its ravages, and the novel coronavirus mutates at an even faster pace than its predecessor. Bill Clinton claims that the foundation named after him has done incalculable service in fighting the menace of AIDS. What he forgets to mention is that the disease has been brought under control by pharmaceuticals that are 90% manufactured in India. And that as President of the United States, Clinton did everything in his power to prevent Indian pharma companies from producing low cost alternatives to the drugs being churned out by Big Pharma donors to the Clinton campaign. Just as in the HIV pandemic, India can be the source of low-cost cocktails of drugs that can ensure that the fatality rate of Covid-19 patients falls from the present rate of around 1% to still lower levels. In contrast, 100% of those with AIDS died of the disease until medicines were discovered that slowed its impact. Much of the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been because of initial confusion in treatment protocols, as well as in the draconian measures taken in efforts (usually futile) to stop the spread of the disease ever since WHO finally sounded the alarm in March 2020. After hitchhiking from Wuhan from the last quarter of 2019 in airline passenger flight after flight to cities across the world, Covid-19 has had a catastrophic effect on countries across the world. Several hundred million jobs have been erased, incomes have fallen and psychological states of mind of tens of millions have come to resemble those periods when the world was at war. Although Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping took the unprecedented step of shutting off Wuhan from the rest of the country in January, few countries understood the magnitude of the danger that was facing them and hence delayed by weeks in barring the entry of travellers from China into their shores. The WHO kept incorrectly repeating that (a) Covid-19 could not be transmitted from human to human and subsequently that (b) international air travel out of and into China was safe, nearly two months after researchers had found that both these propositions were false.
FOCUS ON TREATMENT, NOT JUST VACCINE
When the Gates Foundation and the US Government poured billions of dollars into trying without success to develop a vaccine for HIV, a few virologists had warned that this was a futile effort, given the manner in which the HIV/AIDS virus mutated. A vaccine effective against a particular strain would prove ineffective against a mutation of that strain. As it happened, no AIDS vaccine was discovered. HIV was tamed by the advent of drugs that prolonged life, thereby making the disease no longer a death sentence. During the failed effort at finding out a vaccine for HIV/AIDS, Deborah Birx (another acolyte of Dr Fauci and also a Trump appointee) conducted several vaccine experiments in poor countries. The impact on those experimented with is unknown, but experimental vaccines were injected into thousands of individuals as part of the effort to develop an AIDS vaccine. Had Bill Gates and Dr Fauci focused their undeniable and in many ways admirable energies on the treatment route rather than concentrating only on finding an effective vaccine, many lives could have been saved, as indeed has taken place after HIV medication began to be made in profusion by India. A similar effort by Prime Minister Narendra Modi involving the licensing of production of selected drugs can lead to mass production within India of drugs with a track record of success in battling the novel coronavirus. While the search for the “bird in the bush” (i.e. the vaccine) goes on, the “bird in the hand” (i.e. supply of medication) needs to be nurtured. Such HIV-style activism in India may annoy Big Pharma in the US or parts of the EU, even as it creates tension in Beijing and Moscow, which are focusing on the vaccine route as the solution to the pandemic. The manner in which President Donald J. Trump appears to be recovering from his bout with the novel coronavirus indicates that the treatment route should not be neglected by policymakers any longer, and must be given especially high priority in India. If President Trump comes out of the shadow of the virus in the manner that seems to be taking place, it means that Covid-19 may soon go the way of AIDS by being tamed through treatment protocols much before a vaccine effective against such a fast-mutating disease can be perfected.
ENSURE COVID-19 MEDICATION
Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to convert India into the global factory for manufacturing medicines fighting the novel coronavirus. For this to happen, the Government of India needs to defy policymakers such as US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (who would prefer to have hundreds of thousands of patients die of disease than permit India to manufacture drugs curing them at affordable cost). The Health Minister needs to switch focus from inexplicably trying to change the leadership of the Sri Chitra Institute in Trivandrum. He should instead get licensed domestic manufacturers to make low-cost Covid-19 medication for the world. This would be a lifesaving step that would have an effect far in excess of the efforts of Presidents Putin and Xi to globally market the vaccines they have developed. As most of those who have been infected with Covid-19 are unaware of the disease unless tested later for antibodies, claims of the efficacy of a vaccine against a virus that mutates even faster than HIV are difficult to either affirm or refute. What is possible to prove is the efficacy of medicines and treatment protocols that have already begun to save lives during the pandemic. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals has developed REGN-10987 and REGN-10933 that overcome SARS Cov-2. President Trump was given REGN-COV2 and other medications designed to eliminate the disease. These have been declared as “less than safe” by some vaccine hunters, but it defies logic that medication that carry risks as substantial as those claimed by the “Vaccine Only” lobby would have been administered to the US President in a hospital run by the military. Once the Prime Minister ensures that Remdesivir, Favipiravir and other drugs found to be effective in bringing down the mortality of Covid-19 patients are mandated for production, these could be produced in bulk in India for supply to the poorest countries in the world. Improved treatment protocols and the requisite cocktails of medication would ensure that Covid-19 cease to be the scourge of everyday life that it has become thanks not only to its potential for harm but the fear and panic that the mere mention of the disease causes in people. Once the pharmaceutical and medical professions get liberated from corrupt officials and the big money interests who walk hand in hand with them, India would be able to rescue society and the economy across the world from the present hell into which it has been consigned by the pandemic. India becoming the global factory for Covid-19 drugs requires action by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for activation.
BIG PHARMA COSTS LIVES
While Covid-19 can be a killer, the overall death rate during the pandemic is 1%, which is why Trump is correct in saying that (fear of) Covid-19 should not dominate our lives. Unlike HIV/AIDS, which kills every individual it infects, Covid-19 is fatal in a far lower proportion. For reasons that remain unclear, mass hysteria was whipped up by the WHO, followed by different governments over the pandemic from March 2020 onwards, presumably to justify the extreme lockdowns that were imposed on the recommendation of WHO. India, whose population co-exists with the prevalence of a battery of diseases, should not allow the novel coronavirus to upend society and the economy in the manner that it has. The bold manner in which President Trump has reacted to getting infected may be ridiculed by his opponents, but is in fact the correct attitude to adopt in a situation where fear of the disease is wreaking far more economic and psychological damage than the actual incidence of the disease in populations. The WHO estimates that 10% of the world’s population has been infected, and considering that the number of SARS Cov-2 deaths is about a million so far, there was no reason for the frenzy and panic in several countries that followed the overnight change in tone by the WHO from insouciance to alarm and its repeated calls to lock down countries completely. Given the density of habitation in India, neither working from home nor a complete lockdown is possible in this country, something that Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood in the course of the pandemic and as a consequence ordered the “unlockdown” phase.
While President Bill Clinton sought to gut the Indian pharmaceutical industry on behalf of Big Pharma, it was President George W. Bush who actually saved millions of lives by launching the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003. Nearly $90 billion was spent to save lives across the world, and much of the medication got supplied by companies in India. President George W. Bush ensured that the FDA approved products from manufacturing plants in India. In contrast, under President Barack Obama, the FDA sought to shut down several Indian drug manufacturing plants and joined China and parts of the EU in giving Indian pharma a bad name. Should Donald Trump recover from the disease and secure a second term, he needs to team up with Narendra Modi in making India and the US work together to ensure that medication gets made and distributed across the world, so that much of the dislocation caused by Covid-19 disappears. Should the next occupant of the White House be Joe Biden, the 46th President of the US needs to step out of the Clinton-Obama shadow and ignore the siren calls of Big Pharma. The White House should follow the example of George W. Bush who teamed up with India to save the world from a scourge that was once a death sentence but which has now become manageable over decades of lifespan. The hysterical reaction to Covid-19 by a plethora of agencies and governments has resulted not only in economic disaster but in fear and stigmatization of the disease. This is greater than that faced by sufferers of leprosy. Societies were not locked down and economies shut down by governments in any past pandemic in the manner in which they have been in so many countries since WHO sounded the alarm bells over Covid-19. Unfortunately, this was weeks after it ought to have warned the globe about the severity of the disease. Its cure for the disease (complete and indefinite lockdown) had effects on livelihoods that was worse than the impact of the disease. Just as happened in the case of HIV/AIDS, it is time for Delhi and Washington to link hands to rescue the world from the ditch into Covid-19 has pushed it.