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Sciences

Oct 20, 2005
Bird Flu: the scare and some sense

Alone in the cacophony an Indian voice is talking reassuring sense. Dr M Vidyasagar says current knowledge will find a solution once the virus transfers to humans.

He is a scientist who has studied and worked in the west and the east, in private sector and the government. He is currently Executive Vice President of Tata Consulting Services. He is known to hundreds of thousands of young Indians for his seminal paper in 1993, that persuaded many of them to return to India.

In a private correspondence Dr Sagar says, “Now that I understand a little bit about such things, let me say that genomics has advanced to such an extent that if the world as a whole believes that there is an imminent danger from some virus/bacterium/parasite that can migrate/mutate rapidly, then the whole world would buckle down and come up with at least a first-cut cure in less than a month.” He is quite appalled by the whole scare-mongering. He asks: “...for all the hullabaloo about SARS, how many people *actually died*?”

And GoodNewsIndia is appalled by Indian mainstream media not unearthing the point of view of Indian scientists like Dr Vidyasagar. He explains why deaths of millions will not occur. In normal times a drug’s development cycle is very time consuming. “The usual regulatory framework is based on the premise that, first and foremost, a drug shall do no harm.  Positive benefit comes later.  Also, most of the pressing diseases of the day are NOT infectious (e.g., cancer, diabetes, etc.).  This is why it takes years and years to find AND TO APPROVE new drugs,” he says.

“In contrast, the predicted avian flu ‘pandemic’ is clearly infectious, caused by an external agent invading the body.  If, say, thousands of people are dying every day, every regulatory agency in the world would give the go-by to the its normal procedures, and permit all sorts of experimental drugs to be tried out on the patients.  Developing such ‘candidate drugs’ based on (i) determining the genes and functions of the invader, and (ii) using some kind of gene knock-out therapy, isn’t all that difficult—IF one does not insist on proving the ‘no harm principle’ first.  In short, so long as the avian flu is just a cloud on the horizon, regulatory agencies are quite right to insist on all the usual procedures.  If the predicted pandemic really materializes, the scientific community will very quickly come up with ‘candidate cures,’ which will at once be tried out, depending on the severity of the pandemic.  So people won’t die like flies while the world watches helplessly.”

It has taken a knowing Indian mind to speak the truth. And that should assuage fears and thwart avarice.

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