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Anti-Covid Vaccines cheaper and safer than local brews!

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By CHANDRE DHARMAWARDANA

A recent newspaper headline carried a “Plea to try traditional medicine before importing billions worth of anti-COVID-19 vaccines”. There are two questions to examine here. (a) In a country afraid of even burying post-Covid corpses and insisting on cremations, should one “release” infectious patients to practitioners of traditional medicine who come in all shades and colours? Should the much abused precautionary principle be applied here? (b) If the country uses indigenous preparations, will it save billions?

We answer these two questions, and then discuss their rationale. (a) Patients who wish to be treated by traditional medical practitioners should be ALLOWED to do so, as long as they use registered practitioners. Secondly, (b) using scientific medicine and its vaccines is not only EFFECTIVE, but also MUCH CHEAPER and safer.

Choice of the treatment is open to patient

Sri Lanka reports 50,000 Covid cases since the pandemic began, together with a death toll of approximately 250 in early January 2021. This means, given 200 patients, there is going to be only ONE fatality. Of course, this low fatality rate is partly due to the success of Sri Lanka’s doctors. It is also established that many fatalities are cases of “co-morbidity”, with diabetes, cardio-vascular problems, or asthma and respiratory health problems.

So the threat of the pandemic is not its mortality rate, but its rapid infectiousness. The pandemic generates large numbers of patients, saturating hospitals and exhausting the staff. Many homes are too poor and unequipped to isolate sick individuals. Thus they need hospitalisation. So, many who need hospitalistion do not need special procedures and intensive care, but they need health care.

The known biochemistry and physiology of viral infections suggest that a good course of action is to treat the patient’s fever, body pains and other symptoms, and allow the patient to rest, sleep well, and hydrate well. Then the normal defence mechanisms of the body kick in and the viral infection passes away, just as with common influenza. So, if the patient wishes to use traditional medications, the main difference for Covid-19 is proper isolation — to prevent the infection spreading to caregivers and others.

So, patients may choose Indigenous medicine, and that choice should be respected if quarantine requirements can be ensured. The patient uses “pas-panguva” and other brews, special preparations based on herbs like “rasakinda (Tinospora Cordifolia), veni-ael-gaeta (Coscinium fenestratum), heen-bin kohomba (andrographis paniculata), pitawakka (Phyllanthus Niruri) etc., as recommended by a traditional herbalist. Heen bin-kohomba is also well known in Chinese herbal medicine. It is said to be officially prescribed for Covid in Thailand. A perusal of the “Vattoru” (herbal lists) given by the late Ven. Ananda Maithreeya, is sufficient to identify the herbs of interest for the relevant class of infections. The pharmacological properties, and botanical details of many local herbs and plants are given in the website https://dh-web.org/ place.names/bot2sinhala.html that I have developed over decades.

All these herbal medications, even the recommended “best ones”, are much less efficacious than, say, acetaminophen (paracetamol, Tylenol, Panadol) in lowering fever and body pain. Rasakinda extracts, even when given in high doses, take over two hours to bring down the fever of laboratory mice tested in clinical studies, while acetaminophen does it at a much lower dose, and within half an hour. Furthermore, many herbs like “heen-bin kohomba” or “Rasakinda” – while more effective than the ubiquitous “pas-panguva”, also have adverse consequences (see our website).

In contrast, acetaminophen is very safe even for pregnant mothers, and the reported problems have arisen from “human error” or “patient folly”. Indigenous medicine lacks effective antipyretics like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Of course, some say, “we let nature take its course”, and do not lower the fever! But high fever can have adverse effects, and the febrile sick find it hard to sleep and get rest.

Nevertheless, if someone chooses traditional medicine for a Corona-SARS type infection, they should have their wish, subject to proper quarantine procedures that hospitals of indigenous-medicine can easily provide. Such hospitals should have the right to transfer patients to hospitals practicing scientific medicine, if the health of the patient needs it.

Covid vaccine is far cheaper than Traditional Medicine.

People are surprised to hear that vaccines and “Western Treatment” are much cheaper than local brews or herbal medications. A 500 mg tablet of acetaminophen at the State Pharmaceutical Corporation costs Rs 1.00 (or at most Rs 3.00 if a name brand is purchased). Three such tablets, costing Rs 3 per day is usually enough to control fever. A packet of Paspanguva costs Rs 200-400, and usually at least 4-5 packets may be needed since viral infections take 7-10 days to heal. The total cost of the “Western treatment” may be Rs 21, while the cost of the herbal treatment using 5 packets of “paspanguva” is about Rs 1500, i.e., 70 times more expensive. In addition, if other less common preparations (e.g., using Rasakinda, or Heen Bim Kohomba) were used, the cost would be even more.

So, the treatment of an uncomplicated viral infection using indigenous medicine is about a hundred times more expensive than using scientific medicine. The latter is also less prone to side effects (e.g., for complications from Rasakinda or Bin Kohomba, see our plant website).

It is also claimed that various special brews like the “Dhammika Peniya“, or the “Sudharshana” brew etc., can cure or protect against Covid-19 infections. Owing to politicisation, and opposition to any scientific review as being a part of “Western Hegemony”, no peer-reviewed clinical studies are available. How preparations saturated with sugar can be approved for invalids who may well be diabetic is unclear. However, assuming that accredited medical personnel of the Dept. of Indigenous Medicine accept the brews, we include them in our discussion.

The Dhammika Peniya (containing honey, nutmeg, and two undeclared ingredients) is said to cost about Rs 6.000- Rs 8,000, and needs to be taken during four days to obtain a cure. Assuming that a US dollar is Rs 200, a bottle of the “Peniya” costs $30-40. According to reports, such a bottle may be adequate for two people. Hence the cost of immunization, or treatment with the “Peniya” is $15-20 per person. The other available local preparations are as costly. They are in extreme short supply, the price would move up, and there would be no more at any price.

Unlike the “Peniya”, extensive clinical trials have been used with the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine, as well as with the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine. The Oxford vaccine is the most convenient for Sri Lanka, as it does not need ultra-cold storage. It is said to cost about $2., i.e., 7-10 times CHEAPER than the “Dhammika Peniya”, the performance of which is unknown.

If approximately 65-70% of the adult population were vaccinated, “herd immunity” is said to set in, benefiting the whole population. Sri Lanka’s adult population is about 14 million; the approximate cost of the vaccine for 70% (9.5 million) is $19 million. Sri Lanka can do it, and has led the way in South Asia in the past, in successful vaccination programs to counter common diseases where traditional treatments failed.

To assume that 9.5 million doses of the Dhammika Peniya (or the preparations offered by its competitors) are available at any price is pure fantasy. Nevertheless, even at $20 per portion of a local brew, the local treatment will cost the country $190 million, not including organizational costs.

Sri Lanka should avoid becoming the country that made a pooja of $190 million to “Kali Amma”, and yet earned the Wrath of the Goddess – “Deva Udahasa“. If Peniya fails to work, it is surely not the fault of the “Kapuva“, but a “Deva-Udahasa”!

 

(The author maintains a website, viz., dh-web.org/place.names/bot2sinhala.html on local plants, ethno-botany, phyto-chemistry and plant pharmacology.)



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Opinion

How many people can the Earth sustain?

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=On Nov 15 November 2022, we became a world of 8 billion people. 

It’s a milestone we can celebrate, and an occasion to reflect: How can we create a world in which all 8 billion of us can thrive? The growth of our population is a testament to humanity’s achievements, including reductions in poverty and gender inequality, advancements in health care, and expanded access to education. These have resulted in more women surviving childbirth, more children surviving their early years, and longer, healthier lifespans, decade after decade.

Looking beyond the averages, at the populations of countries and regions, the picture is much more nuanced – and quickly takes us beyond the numbers themselves. Stark disparities in life expectancy point to unequal access to health care, opportunities and resources, and unequal burdens of violence, conflict, poverty and ill health.

Birth rates vary from country to country, with some populations still growing fast, others beginning to shrink. But underlying these trends, whichever way they point, is a widespread lack of choice. Discrimination, poverty and crisis – as well as coercive policies that violate the reproductive rights of women and girls – put sexual and reproductive health care and information, including contraception and sex education, out of reach for far too many people.

We face serious challenges as a global community, including the mounting impacts of climate change, ongoing conflicts and forced displacement. To meet them, we need resilient countries and communities. And that means investing in people and making our societies inclusive, so that everyone is afforded a quality of life that allows them to thrive in our changing world.

To build demographic resilience, we need to invest in better infrastructure, education and health care, and ensure access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. We need to systematically remove the barriers – based on gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or migration status – that prevent people from accessing the services and opportunities they need to thrive.

We need to rethink models of economic growth and development that have led to overconsumption and fuelled violence, exploitation, environmental degradation and climate change, and we need to ensure that the poorest countries – which did not create these problems, yet bear the brunt of their impacts – have the resources to build the resilience and well-being of their growing populations.

We need to understand and anticipate demographic trends, so that governments can make informed policies and resource allocations to equip their populations with the right skills, tools and opportunities.

But while demographic trends can help guide the policy choices we make as societies, there are other choices – including if and when to have children – that policy cannot dictate, because they belong to each individual. This right to bodily autonomy underlies the full range of our human rights, forming a foundation for resilient, inclusive and thriving societies that can meet the challenges of our world. When our bodies and futures are our own, we are #8BillionStrong.

(UNFPA)

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Opinion

Sri Lanka Now Famous For Bribery And Corruption

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Bribery and corruption are two words that Sri Lanka has become “famous” for during the last few decades. This was something rare about half a century ago. We very rarely heard of Cabinet Ministers resorting to bribery, except in two cases.

If I remember right one was indicted in courts and had to serve a period in Her Majesty’s free hostel. The other was one of the members of the multi-Member Kadugannawa constituency, but it was not a very serious one as it involved the granting of appointments like sub-Post Mistress. There was also a businessman nabbed for giving bribes and held in a house in Paget Road. However, then it was rare and only a few cases such as that mentioned were known. In addition, these instances did not in any way effect the economy of the country or the people.

Gradually, the art of bribery and corruption became so well-known that most investors and contractors from abroad and locally were not willing to tender for essential supplies and construction of buildings and roads as they had to oil the palms right down the line. At one time a Cabinet Minister was nicknamed Mr. Ten Percent indicating his ‘cut’ on any tender or contract!

This country became famous for bribery and corruption in a big way after the tsunami in 2004 with the Helping Hambantota project, where funds from abroad to assist the victims went into a wrong pocket.

It was also very recently that a Cabinet Minister was reported to the President regarding a bribe he had solicited from a foreign tenderer. The then President asked him to step down till an inquiry was held. But with the change in the top position, a retired judge was appointed to inquire into this allegation. As in the bond scam the inquiry found him not guilty, and he was reinstated in the Cabinet. It is only in Sri Lanka that this type of thing could happen.

The Sri Lankan diaspora would have helped the country to recover from the economic mess the leaders plunged it into by sending money from abroad. But they did not want to do so as they knew what would happen to such funds. Even people here requested them not to send assistance till the corrupt leaders have been got rid of.This resplendent island may have been the pearl of the Indian Ocean at one time but now it has become notorious for bribery and corruption! When will we get honest leaders to run this country as was done about a century ago?

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

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Opinion

The Rehabilitation Bill

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The high priests of our temple of justice has reaffirmed our faith in our legal system and the rule of law. A country without the rule of law will disintegrate into worse chaos than we are plunged in today.

It was heartening to see the determination by the Supreme Court on the Rehabilitation Bill. The legal preamble is a bit hard for an average lay person to follow. To my understanding, they have thrown some strong road blocks on the passage of this Bill. Well and good. I don’t think it will be that easy for the govt to surmount them. The legal fraternity, civil society and ordinary citizens, must fight hard to see that there is no transgression of the determination of the Supreme Court.

We need not and don’t need to incarcerate anybody. Those addicted to drugs should be handled by the health dept. or better still their families. These are our misguided sons and daughters who have taken a wrong path due to a failure in their families and the society around them. They need to be handled with care and consideration. Institutionalizing them would make the problem a costly failure.

Our lawmakers should hang their heads in shame if they vote for this draconian Bill as they may be viewed as persons who serve the wishes of the rulers and not those of the people.

Padmini Nanayakkara
Colombo-3

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