“Better to get Corona than see our harvest rot because of curfew and no buyers” said a desperate farmer at the shuttered Dambulla wholesale market recently in an interview with News First.
His statement made clear that there is no tradeoff between ‘lives’ and ‘livelihoods’, and you cannot have one without the other. A balance must be found to protect and sustain life, particularly, in developing countries where large segments of the population live under the poverty line on daily wages. Farmer suicide rates in South Asia tend to be high due to poverty and debt even in good years. Compromised immune systems due to poverty and lack of food would be unable to fight any virus. Countries like India and Sri Lanka that are in economically crippling country-wide lockdowns may be headed for double jeopardy.
The Dambulla vegetable wholesale market was shut down due to an indiscriminate country-wider, month-long curfew ordered by the Government of Sri Lanka on the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). The Sri Lankan government’s Covid 19 response has been highly militarized and the task force led by a General and a government allied Medical Officers trade union (GMOA), while the right to information and debate on policy has been severely limited.
However, WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had telephoned the Sri Lankan President personally to thank him for “mobilizing the whole-of-government in the fight against the corona virus. Together!”. Would the WHO and its director general who called to congratulate the strongman President of Sri Lanka for imposing an economically destructive month long curfew with military enforcement also count the deaths of farmers, wage-less day laborers and migrant workers who make up the greater part of the labour force as a result of the economic meltdown? In India millions of migrant labourers were forced to walked hundreds of miles to get home after the imposition of brutal lock downs with just 4 hours advanced notice.
Good news: The humble BCG Vaccine
Numerous studies in many parts of the world have linked the BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin), vaccination, widely used in the developing world with fewer Coronavirus cases. This is good news for countries that have universal BCG vaccination in tropical Asia and Africa. Many of these countries cannot afford extended lock downs and curfews since the ensuring economic and supply chain disruption, loss of livelihoods, and poverty could kill more people in the long term.
Originally developed against Tuberculosis (TB), the hundred year-old BCG vaccine offers broad protection and sharply reduce the incidence of respiratory infections, while also preventing infant deaths from a variety of causes. According to Prof Luke O’Neill, who has specialised in study of the vaccine at Trinity College Dublin a combination of reduced morbidity and mortality could make the 100 year-old BCG vaccination a game-changer in the fight against coronavirus. While there is no specific cure for Covid-19, the BCG maybe a flak-jacket against the Coronavirus. Experts note that the vaccine seems to “train” the immune system to recognize and respond to a variety of infections, including viruses, bacteria and parasites. The vaccine is now being tested in several countries including Australia, Germany and Netherlands against the new Corona virus – to protect frontline health workers.
In short, universal BCG vaccination has already flattened the Covid 19 curve in many tropical developing countries like Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan where mortality rates are in single digits, double digits or hundreds; certainly not in the thousands, unlike in the US and EU, and other temperate regions where the Coronavirus seems more virulent. But this information is being suppressed.
Variation in Covid 19 infection across countries has been attributed to differences in climate, cultural norms, mitigation efforts, and health infrastructure. Research indicating that countries whose populations have high levels of BCG vaccination had significantly fewer Covid-19 deaths is highly significant. Countries that do not have universal policies of BCG vaccination, such as Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States, have been more severely affected compared to countries with universal and long-standing BCG policies,” noted Gonzalo Otazu, assistant professor of biomedical sciences at NYIT.
Countries that use BCG vaccination programs had a fatality rate of four per million people, while countries without BCG vaccination programs were 10 times more likely to die at a rate of 40 deaths per million people. The chart below shows stark differences in mortality ratios between countries with and without BCG vaccination programs.
While he stressed the research was largely a statistical one and so came with caveats, there was a case for authorities moving to provide a BCG vaccine top-up for everybody age over 70. “This is feasible and should be considered.
BCG in South Asia
In South Asia the BCG vaccine has been universally used for decades. India and Pakistan started using BCG in 1948 and in Sri Lanka BCG vaccination became mandatory in 1949 according to the Ministry of Health epidemiology unit. Compared to case numbers in Europe and North America, and relative to population size South Asian countries have registered low numbers and Covid 19 case load.
Three weeks after a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) it is increasingly clear from the Covid 19 data that Asian countries which practice universal BCG vaccination are relatively better positioned to fight Coronavirus — despite the crippling curfews that saw millions of migrant labourers walking hundreds of miles and dying in the process to get home.
In addition to BCG hot and humid tropical weather may be another factor inhibiting the spread and strength of the Covid 19 flu in South Asia. Countries that have a late start of universal BCG policy (Iran, 1984) had high mortality, consistent with the idea that BCG protects the vaccinated elderly population.
Pakistan a country with 200 million people did not impose the crippling curfews that neighbouring India and Sri Lanka did, had 4,072 patients with 59 deaths on April 10. Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan, sensibly pointed out that more people would die of poverty caused by lockdowns in the long run. In Sri Lanka where a brutal curfew was imposed there have been under 210 Covid 19 cases with 7 deaths, and India a country with more than a billion people has reported 9,000 cases over 3 weeks.
There have been only 12,434 confirmed cases in all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, a miniscule number compared to China, Italy, Spain and the United States, and about the same as Canada, a country of just 37.6 million compared to Southeast Asia’s 622 million. While lack of testing may be cited as a reason for the relatively low numbers, by now – three weeks after Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic and months after the epidemic in neighbouring China – the region surely should have expected an explosion of cases similar to Italy and Spain. Clearly in tropical Asian countries, including those with poor health systems the epidemic is far more limited.
This fact raises questions about the Indian and Sri Lankan government’s imposition of economically devastating and socially crippling curfews at the urging of the WHO and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) funded Johns Hopkins University (JHU) which is collecting Covid 19 data for a global database, while providing analysis seeming based on simulated pandemic from the mysterious EVENT 201 which was staged last October with the WHO and Gates Foundation and others modeling a fictional novel coronavirus.
We know little about the virus but shut down your economies: Questions on WHO’s data and policy recommendations
Throughout the so-called Covid 19 pandemic WHO has adopted the line: We know very little about the virus, but shut down your economies. While there is no talk about an Exit Strategy from economically damaging curfews through herd immunity in countries with universal BCG vaccination where mortality and morbidity due to Covid 19 is low, there is much talk of a “gold standard” Covid 19 vaccine that is yet to be innovated.
WHO is funded by States and big pharmaceutical companies that are rushing to develop Covid 19 vaccines and make big profits, and claims contrary to a great deal of scientific evidence that BCG vaccine significantly reduces Covid 19 mortality and morbidity rates on its website that :
“there is no evidence that the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (BCG) protects people against infection with COVID-19 virus. Two clinical trials addressing this question are underway, and WHO will evaluate the evidence when it is available. In the absence of evidence, WHO does not recommend BCG vaccination for the prevention of COVID-19..
The WHO’s pandemic narrative and call for lockdowns to fight Covid 19 that have caused massive livelihood loss and economic meltdowns in countries like India and Sri Lanka (with the GMOA in tow), have not been modulated by the evidence that the BCG vaccine may act as barrier to the disease. In short, while the BCG may be a ‘game changer’ in the long run, also in assisting development of herd immunity which would mitigate need for harsh curfews imposed in developing countries that cannot afford shutdowns, the WHO denies this. Heaven forbid that a BCG booster may be the solution in front of us!
There are parallels in the WHO’s denial that the anti-Malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine could be beneficial for Covid 19 patients, while pushing for development of new drugs and vaccines that would bring big profits to drug companies, although researchers in France and China had reported success with the drug.
Increasingly, questions are being raised about the WHO’s Covide 19 data, models and analysis. Dr. Jay Battacharya, Professor of Medicine at Stanford University has noted that “the claim that coronavirus would kill millions without shelter-in-place orders and quarantines is highly questionable”. In an interview at the Hoover Institute he observed: “there’s little evidence to confirm that premise—and projections of the death toll could plausibly be orders of magnitude too high.” Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate—2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization and others.
Drs. Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya argue that Covid-19 isn’t as deadly as suggested and suggest that the “extraordinary measures” being pushed by the WHO may not be justified. Their argument is that the total number of coronavirus infections is much higher than we think, which mathematically means the mortality rate is much lower.
Exaggeration using war metaphors and nationalism has characterized the WHO’s Covid pandemic narrative. However, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine now predicts that fewer people will die and fewer hospital beds will be needed compared to estimates from last week. As of Wednesday, the model predicted the virus will kill 60,000 people in the United States over the next four months – 33,000 fewer deaths than estimated last Thursday.
As, Professor Nyasa Mboti of Free Town University wrote: “by its own admission, WHO seems to have declared Covid19 a pandemic IN ORDER to avert a Covid19 pandemic. This seems illogical. You cannot be in a pandemic that has not YET started, and you can only avert a crisis that has NOT YET taken place. ..The current global coronavirus crisis is proof that global agencies such as the WHO can actually cause irreparable harm. Perhaps their global roles need to be called into serious question.“
US President Trump’s withdrawal of funds from the WHO siting China bias seems to distract from a far more substantive bias and related data and policy rigging, in the interest of some big pharmaceutical companies at WHO, that increasingly represents a danger to the health and well-being, lives and livelihoods of people living under the poverty line everywhere. Big drug companies stand to make a windfall from a Covid 19 vaccine. This bias is also shared among many local and national medical associations like the GMOA whose members are funded by big drug companies.
In India the WHO this week was compelled to correct an exaggeration in a report that claimed that Covid 19 had reached level 3 – community spread severity. In Sri Lanka several doctors have challenged Covid 19 case numbers and suggested that there is inflation and data manipulation.
We know very little about the virus, but shut down your economy – WHO
WHO’s Covid 19 global media narrative (Al Jazeera CNN, BBC etc), has concentrated on hyping up fear psychosis and groupthink, based on data from Europe and North America, while suppressing mitigating information in the global south. This has resulted in economically devastating policy making in India and Sri Lanka and a devil’s bargain – an attempt to trade off lives with livelihoods.
The flood of Covid 19 data and information in the media, masks lack of adequate data disaggregation, comparative analysis, and modelling by geographic region and country, as well as, an ahistorical approach. After all, seasonal flu is known to infect over a billion people and kill as many as 750,000 people annually according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The crippling curfews and destruction of the real economy in India and Sri Lanka reveals serious short comings in national and South Asian (SAARC) regional data analysis, planning and policy making, by the Modi and Rajapaksa governments, and allied medical associations like the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA), as well as, the failure to access regional expertise.
Claims that curfews and lockdowns cannot end until a vaccine is found, reflect bias toward big pharmaceutical companies that also fund research and the WHO, which stand to profit from a new “gold standard” Covonavirrus vaccine.
Surveillance, fear and groupthink
Although the great majority of people who get Corona virus will have mild symptom and survive well, with the creation of a Coronavirus global fear psychosis, economies have been shut down, livelihoods destroyed, and democratic rights compromised as new systems of surveillance and governance are being put in place purportedly for patient network tracking.
In Sri Lanka a brand new USAID funded hospital exclusively for Covid 19 patients has been constructed with promised funding of USD 1.3 million at the former Voice of America compound in Chilaw, equipped with robots, and surveillance technologies including drones “to activate case finding and event-based surveillance, contact tracing etc. with technical experts for response and preparedness. Additionally, the United States will help prepare Sri Lankan laboratory systems for large-scale COVID-19 testing. The United States is coordinating with the Government of Sri Lanka, and other stakeholders to identify additional priority areas for assistance to the tune of USD 1.3 million.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has revealed how pervasive surveillance mechanisms developed in the last decade or so have become. In a strategically located country like Sri Lanka with an under-developed tech sector, foreign countries may access private data platforms via such surveillance platforms is a concern. The Covid 19 narrative may serve a range of interests — from big Pharma to geopolitical actors. enabling the setting up of surveillance systems while people are in lockdowns that also erode democratic rights including the right to information as well as privacy. Internet trading companies – for Amazon to Ali Baba – would also benefit from the lock downs at expense of small groceries and neighbourhood shops.
The Corona lock down has been used to encourage people to go cashless and use internet and card based transactions that may be easily tracked. Data platforms consolidated into big data may be mined at election times to fix outcomes as did Cambridge Analytica. Tech companies are poised to benefit from the Covid 19 narrative and gain in legitimacy, with the normalization of their existence and operations based on the gathering and monetization of people’s data.
In apparent effort to contain the spread of the virus, governments all over the world have adopted various surveillance and monitoring technologies, from South Korea to China, Israel and Singapore, as well as in Italy, Germany and Austria. The Covid 19 pandemic narrative may serve to shut down economies and societies while setting up surveillance systems under the guise of defending and protecting them.
As Edward Snowden and number of other analysts have warned, we need to closely watch whether or not the surveillance measures deployed to deal with the virus will be kept in place by public authorities after the pandemic is over. Meanwhile, Bill Gates of the Gates Foundation, now the second biggest funder of WHO after President Trump withdrew US funding from the WHO citing China bias and policy failures, has suggested that everyone would need to be vaccinated against Covid 19 flu and those who are vaccinated would get Covid 19 vaccination certificates that they are not a danger to society and hence able travel freely. A Covid 19 vaccination passport may be the new normal in the post pandemic world?
Post Script: 4 field Anthropology and other tools to evaluate and interpret data
Finally, while much may be said about the issue of expertise and the rule of experts in what appears to be the abdication of common sense in the Covid 19 panicdemic response, some people have questioned my qualifications to analyze and interpret the data, and the suggestion that herd immunity may be achieved by letting the flu run its course in the absence of a vaccine anytime soon as be an Exit strategy from economically destructive curfews that have destroyed the livelihoods.
While not a medical doctor I am a trained anthropologist, and competent I hope to analyze and interpret the relevant data. Anthropology is the scientific study of humans and human kind, including societies and cultures, past and present. Biological or physical anthropology focusses on the biological development of humans, while social anthropology studies patterns of behavior, culture, norms and values. Linguistic Anthropology focusses on how language influences social life. Archeology focusses on investigation of physical evidence of human kind and is considered a branch of anthropology in the United States and Canada, while in Europe, it is viewed as a discipline in its own. In the United States where I read for and earned a Bachelors and Masters degrees, as well as, a Doctorate in the field of Anthropology, majors in the subject were required to take courses in all four fields in order to graduate. To recap, the 4 fields of Anthropology are: 1) Biological Anthropology 2) Cultural Anthropology 3) Linguistic Anthropology, 4) Archaeology.
Thanks to a broad American liberal arts education at Brandeis University, the only non-sectarian Jewish liberal arts university in the US, I was able to take courses in the Biology Department on the Human Genome and Recombinant DNA, as well as, courses in other departments on population, demography and development including of mortality and morbidity data analysis and methodology. Study of Anthropology in the American Liberal Arts tradition, in short, provides a broad base for both lateral thinking and critical thinking. I am thankful to have acquired these skills at a university whose motto was “truth, even unto its innermost parts”.
 Did the World Health Organisation lie about Covid-19 being a pandemic?
 Ivan Monokha “How data-mining companies are set to gain from the Covid-19 pandemic” Open Democracy