Thursday, October 8, 2020

May Not Science Overcome Common Sense

More than eight months into the pandemic, there are no indications of it abating in most parts of the world including in India. Yet, humanity has finally decided to start living in as much normalcy as possible. But the working world that they have returned to, is nothing similar to what it has been in early March. Across industrial sectors and countries, the world economy lies shattered.

While there is no point in putting the blame on anyone for this debacle of colossal proportions, it is essential to realize how the whole world could be so misguided in tackling this crisis. At first looks, it might seem that the political leaders have to be blamed. But then, they were never the experts. Who were the experts advising them to lock down the entire world?

Clearly the buck stops at the World Health Organization and the global medical establishment. The blunders that WHO and the national health bodies suggested to the governments cannot be brushed under the carpet so easily. For a rapidly spreading infection in China that captured the world’s attention as far back as December 2019, it took WHO more than three months to declare it a pandemic.

And instead of advising the whole world to impose a travel ban to and from China, WHO kept on misguiding the whole world that there is no need for such a ban, which enabled Chinese tourists – the largest outbound tourist contingent in the world – to spread the disease across Europe and North America. But thankfully, much of Africa and Asia, including India, was spared in this phase, as the Chinese tourists are not much drawn to these destinations.

But the worldwide inbound tourists to China – which is also one of the world’s largest tourist destinations – is what finally trapped India and the rest of the world. While India was one of the first nations to impose a travel ban from China, it alone wasn’t enough, as China is a favourite and frequent destination for Non Resident Indians across the world, especially in the Middle East for business travel. And besides that, by the time our travel ban from China came, the disease had spread in much of the Western world, from where there was no ban for several subsequent weeks.

The pandemic could have been contained in this initial phase itself, had the WHO and the apex medical bodies in various countries, acted on some common sense. Instead, they kept on adding more fuel to the fire, the most infamous of them being their advice that masks are necessary for only medical professionals and not the general public.

And then came the blunder of blunders – advising all governments to lock down their whole countries. Shutting down schools and things like movie theatres surely made sense, but whole economies? And without resorting to their own common sense, politicians across the world panicked and shut down their countries, upon this ‘expert’ opinion that keeping everything locked down would somehow make this virus disappear.

And what would have only been a serious health crisis, ballooned into a grave economic crisis that would now take the world ages to come out of. And when their failing economies started to bite, governments across the world were forced to reopen, and to their utter dismay found that the virus had not magically disappeared, but was continuing to spread wherever it could.

WHO’s recommendation for masks for the general public came much late, and even then this world’s apex medical body, as well as USA’s Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), continued to maintain that Covid-19 is only spread by large droplets coming out through coughing and sneezing, and not by aerosols of tiny particles coming out through normal talking and breathing. This stance continued to discourage people from wearing masks.

Finally, it took an international coalition of engineers and scientists – mainly outside of the medical profession – to call out that the king is naked. They proved with numerous cases and dynamic models that aerosols from infected persons coming out through talking and breathing, gets suspended in air for much longer, and potentially infect people in indoor settings. But for medical experts in WHO and CDC it took several more weeks to concede it!

There was also utter confusion in the medical world about the bizarre way in which Covid-19 escalated to complications and death in many patients and proved to be harmless in the majority of the infected populations. In fact, this virus doesn’t cause a serious infection in the majority of people, but causes the silent development of preventive antibodies, and most of such cases are not even counted in the Covid positive tallies.  

At first, the complications were attributed to age, and then it was attributed to lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol & cardiovascular disease which came to be called as co-morbidities of Covid-19.

All these theories proved to be only approximations as many patients in their young age and with apparently no co-morbidities succumbed to the disease, whereas many seniors with one or more of these lifestyle diseases survived Covid-19 after basic treatments.

Clearly, there is more than what meets the eye in how Covid-19 affects different people, and now medical researchers have unravelled around five markers in blood including high levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Ferritin as potential indicators whether a patient would develop complications or even death from Covid-19.

Basically, all these five markers are signals of metabolic disorder and chronic inflammation in the body, which may often be silent. And this exposes the superficial way in which modern medicine often treats diseases without looking at an individual’s physiology. For every lifestyle disease, there is a pill, which manages the issue daily but never cures it. And lifestyle modifications that can effectively cure these lifestyle diseases, and thus cut the reliance on medicines, are never promoted.

Covid-19 has exposed the acute danger of this medical approach. Such purely symptomatic management of lifestyle diseases never addresses this underlying metabolic disorder and chronic inflammation in the body. While Covid-19 has helped to expose the hollowness of this treatment protocol, more should have been done much earlier, as even without a pandemic, all these lifestyle diseases kill more people annually than Covid-19 could ever do in a year.

What the situation calls for is nothing short of a revolution in medical practice, where preventive medicine, based on lifestyle modifications in diet and exercise, is more stressed upon. And from a wider perspective, the governments need to take a more measured approach based on common sense, whenever radical measures like a complete lockdown is advised by medical bodies like WHO.

Time has now proved that WHO’s strategy of calling for countrywide lockdowns for months altogether was totally unwarranted, untimely and ineffective. This is evident from the fact that, when the Covid cases were in the hundreds, most nations locked themselves up, destroying their economies, and when the cases grew into thousands, most nations unlocked themselves, sending the cases to lakhs and complicating the economic recovery further.

The correct response to Covid-19 would have been to lockdown only schools, theatres and the like for a while, and to allow all other businesses, organizations and colleges to continue working, with compulsory usage of masks. And only Covid-19 patients and their close contacts needed to be quarantined and not whole nations! But such wisdom comes from common sense and not medical science.

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