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Threat of a Covid vaccine?

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The media is full of cheers on the reported finding of a COVID-19 vaccine.

When the story broke out on Tuesday night, the BBC news presenter Mathew Amroliwala, was so excited about having to tell the world about this, with only a short line about it having to be kept in minus 80 degree temperature. This is said to be 90% effective. 

Is this the finding of the great preventive against COVID 19? There is certainly much more thinking to be done. A responder on France 24 was very clear in telling that the Pfizer vaccine had not been studied by peers and the various sectors of science and research, to justify its claim for 90% effectiveness.

On another TV channel, a scientist from South Africa, who is engaged in research on vaccine production, was very clear that this would be of no use to Africa and most of Asia. It was best described as a vaccine that could not be brought to the people, but the people had to go to it.

Cocid-19 is spreading hugely the world over, The US has the highest infections and the highest numbers dead from it for any country. Let’s not forget that India stands second in infections, with a low death rate, but the Deepavali and other celebrations could change this picture.

The whole world is certainly in the search for an effective vaccine. Russia claims its own Sputnik vaccine, but it has not been able to control the huge spread of Covid in  the current wave. China has claims to a vaccine, which is being tested in some other countries, but the world of Western Science has not  given any approval to it.

So why is this huge media spotlight for this Pfizer vaccine? Why do not the key sections of the Western media think of this as the answer to Covid -19, although President Trump himself has not claimed it to be his promised solution to the Covid pandemic? Is he still thinking of swallowing some insecticides to cure Covid? Will some US pharmaceutical company produce a suitable insecticide for this, before president-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20, next year.

It looks like the name Pfizer is the cause for this huge celebration by the western media. Pfizer has produced many drugs that have been of benefit to humans.  These include blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan (fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication; Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and much more.

Pfizer has joined with a German pharmaceutical company in producing this new media hailed anti-COVID vaccine. It is useful to look at the real record of Pfizer, and its means of controlling the media and even medical profession, when judging the sudden hurrah for its COVID vaccine, which must be stored and delivered under 70 to 0 degrees Centigrade!

 This company has paid many fines to authorities in the US and other countries too, for huge fraud in the marketing of its drugs. The US Department of Justice has brought many charges against it for criminal and civil liability arising from the illegal promotion of certain pharmaceutical products. It paid US$ 2.3 million, the largest health care fraud settlement in the history of the US Department of Justice.  

It and its subsidiaries have pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the US Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDA) for misbranding Bextra, as an anti-inflammatory drug, later ouled from the market in 2005. Pfizer promoted the sale of Bextra for several uses and dosages that the FDA specifically declined to approve due to safety concerns.

In addition, Pfizer has agreed to pay US$ 1 billion to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that the company illegally promoted four drugs – Bextra; Geodon – an antipsychotic drug; Zyvox – n an antibiotic; and Lyrica – an anti-epiletic drug. It also caused false claims to be submitted to government healthcare programs, for uses that were not medically accepted.

It also agreed to pay US$ 55 million in 2013, over the drug Protonix, having failed to warn people about the risk of kidney problems from this drug. 

If that is part of the Pfizer record in the US, let’s go elsewhere. It had to pay compensation to Nigerian families affected by a controversial drug trial in 1996. It paid US$ 175,000 each to four families, after 11 children died and dozens were left disabled, after  Pfizer gave them the experimental ant-meningitis drug – Trovan. This is well reported by BBC.  

From Africa to Europe, for three years Pfizer Italy provided free cell phones, photocopiers, printers and televisions to doctors, arranged for vacations (such as ‘weekend in Gallipoli”, weekend with companion’ and ‘weekend in Rome”) in return for promises by doctors to recommend Pfizer products.

The New York headquarters of Pfizer has agreed to pay a total of US$ 60.2 million in penalties to settle documented charges of bribery. The Securities and Exchange Commision says that Prozer Italy employees went out of their way to “falsely” book the expenses under ‘misleading” labels like “Professional Training” and “Advertising in Scientific Journals”.

This penalty id roughly half a percent of the company’s annual profit that exceeded $10 billion a year on global sales of $67.4 billion in 2011.

For the interesting record, Italy was not the only country where Pfizer has been accused of bribing doctors and local officials. “Prizer took shortcuts to boost business in several Eurasian countries, bribing government officials in Bulgaria, Croatia, Kazakhstan and Russia to the tune of millions of dollars’, says the principal deputy assistant attorney general of the US Department of Justice, Criminal Division.

We in Sri Lanka are not wholly ignorant of how pharmaceutical companies use crooked and unlawful means to influence those in our medical profession, the organizations and institutions  engaged in public health, as well as the political forces that take important decisions on the management of health services, and the availability of drugs, too.

We are just in the midst of a huge political and administrative debate on the matter, particularly over the tracing of COVID-19.

It is time to keep an open eye, locally and internationally, over Pfizer and any other COVID-19 vaccine or other treatment and handling of the pandemic. A vaccine that can be stored and delivered in our own temperatures – and not minus 80 C degreees – is also what we should be watchful of, whatever the global media says about it.  



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Opinion

Right to travel

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A.G. Noorani

VERY few would dispute that travel broadens the mind. But in the developing nations of this world, the state asserts that it can determine whether its citizen has the right to go abroad or not. The supreme court may take its own time to decide whether or not a citizen — even if he or she lives in a country that claims itself to be a democracy — has the right to possess a passport. Even if that is allowed as an essential travel document, the authorities might decide who can use it or who cannot. The government of India, regardless of which party is in power, seems to have assumed the right to decide whether or not to let a chief minister travel abroad.

The victim is the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who was to speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. But the BJP-ruled government, headed by Narendra Modi, felt that he could not go and did not give him clearance. Its approach was nonsensical.

By now, most of the countries of the Third World have ratified the United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is an international treaty in law while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is, in law, just a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Article 12(2) of the covenant provides that “Everyone shall be free to leave any county including his own” — in other words, there should be no restrictions on travelling abroad.

The covenant sets up a human rights committee of distinguished persons who are not representatives of the government but are individuals of note who have “high moral character” and are elected by the states, who have ratified the covenant.Parties to the covenant have to file reports to the committee on their observance of the stipulations contained within. States send mostly their attorney general to defend their reports. Members of the committee grill representative of the states. They do not publicise much of the report within their own countries or the contents of their reports. Both err on the side of exaggeration.

Unfortunately, civil liberties movements in the Third World are generally not articulate nor well-equipped. The exception that stands out is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan based in Lahore whose prominent chairperson, the late Mr I.A. Rehman, never failed to stand up for civil rights.

In India, following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the election in 1977, a liberal government came to power which ratified the UN covenant in March 1979. They ratified it only with certain conditions but these did not concern Article 21 of the constitution of India that says very clearly that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

The Indian supreme court has ruled that fundamental rights can be exercised outside the country. In 1978, the apex court had to deal with Maneka Gandhi’s case concerning the impounding of her passport. The supreme court held:

“…[F]reedom to go abroad is one of such rights, for the nature of man as a free agent necessarily involves free movement on his part. There can be no doubt that if the purpose and the sense of state is to protect personality and its development, as indeed it should be of any liberal democratic state, freedom to go abroad must be given its due place amongst the basic rights.

“This right is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. It is a right which gives intellectual and creative workers in particular the opportunity of extending their spiritual and intellectual horizon through study at foreign universities, through contact with foreign colleagues and through participation in discussions and conferences.

“The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right.

“Moreover, this freedom would be a highly valuable right where man finds himself obliged to flee: (a) because he is unable to serve his God as he wished at the previous place of residence, (b) because his personal freedom is threatened for reasons which do not constitute a crime in the usual meaning of the word and many were such cases during the emergency, or (c) because his life is threatened either for religious or political reasons or through the threat to the maintenance of minimum standard of living compatible with human dignity.” This ruling has stood the test of time.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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Opinion

If visitors pay USD at airport, no fuel queues for them

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The above statement was made by Manusha Nanayakkara our Labour & Foreign Employment Minister. How the Minister is going to do it is not known.I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister for his consideration to implement his proposal. Tourists, migrant workers and the dual citizens were the people whom the Minister referred to in his proposal. Many expat Sri Lankans of whom some could be dual citizens visit home once a year to spend their holidays with their families. Since Covid this might have slowed down.

With the Covid jabs even though one could catch Covid people have started to travel. Travelling to Colombo again will slow down due to the pathetic situation that exist with a shortage of everything, particularly fuel, gas and medicines. The Minister’s statement is some encouragement, but he must place his plan for the consideration of the prospective travellers and shoe by action.

The Bank Of Ceylon Branch at the Airport can sell a Dollar debit card to expats, migrant workers and tourists or in other words those who arrive with a return ticket. The minimum value can be USD 500 with provision to put more dollars attending any BOC Branch. When selling the card, a separate certificate in a little booklet format can be given with the Passport details of the traveller entered. The registration details of the vehicle the traveller intends to use can be entered in the booklet by any BOC branch after the traveller finds the vehicle, that is hired or owned by a relation. If the traveller changes the vehicle the new vehicle details can be entered only after 3 days of the first registration. This will help to prevent misusing the debit card.

The traveller must be able to purchase fuel and other rare commodities on production of the certificate to pay by the debit card referred to in the certificate.

Expats and the tourists visit to travel, and fuel must be available at petrol stations, at least one station ear marked in every town with stock always available for this category. Purchase of fuel can be restricted to at least 15 litres per day that will be good to run about 150kms approximately.

I have suggested the above as a base for the Minster to work out a reasonable plan. Once it is made and implemented whether it works smoothly or with hiccups will be known to prospective travellers through the newspapers. If the system works well, the travellers will have confidence in visiting Sri Lanka and there will be many wanting to visit in the near future.

Hemal Perera

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Opinion

‘CEB restructure must be apolitical says CEBEU’ – a reply

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The above captioned news item appearing in your Sunday issue quotes CEBEU mentions that Cabinet approval has been granted to commence restructuring of Ceylon Electricity Board [C EB] and a committee has been appointed to submit its recommendations within a month; a very important and urgent action indeed seeing and learning the mismanagement and conflicting views and action taken to serve two masters viz, the Ministry for Power and Energy and the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka [PUCSL] and also political interferences as correctly stated by CEB engineers –”The engineers stressed that political non-interferences is of paramount importance”. The interference of the Minister to award a tender for the construction pf 350 Mw LNG plant at Kerawalapitiya to a Chinese construction Company as against the recommendation of the Tender Board, causing a delay of over four years, and the cabinet approval for a wind farm in the north by an Indian company without consulting CEB are a couple worthy of mentioning. It should be emphatically stated, CEB has knowledgeable expert electrical engineers and I believe there are none outside, other than those retired CEB engineers who have set up lucrative consultancy firms, internationally recognized. During my time serving this sector for nearly two decades, with directives by the Ministry, in electrical engineering, administrative and financial matters, the CEB ran to the satisfaction of consumers and also invested elsewhere which made the Treasury to compel CEB to invest on Treasury Bills. The interferences in the administration and matters were directly settled by CEB and also directives of the Ministry have now to obtain the approval of PUCSL.

I remember that the PUCSL called for tenders to remove electric poles, a minor job done by area engineers. There was an instance where the PUCSL sought legal action against CEB for not consulting the PUCSL on a certain matter. Recently, the PUCSL has reduced the tariff worked out by expert proposed by the CEB. What does this mean, the CEB will have to cut down or cancel certain items which it had, to accommodate PUCSL reduction. For efficient running of the CEB, the committee should recommend an end to PUCSL interference with CEB. Do not forget consumers of electricity, commuters etc., could directly place their grievances to the authorities or through organizations, associations concerned and Trade Union, to get redress. The interference I mentioned is not my not my view alone. This was a request made by former Ministry for Power and Energy, Dallas Alahapperuma to the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa; it was approved but overruled by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mahinda Rajapaksa. For reasons perhaps ut ab ordine – chaos from order.

It is hoped the Committee appointed will look into what is stated above and make recommendations accordingly.

G. A. D.S irimal
BORALESGAMUWA
Former Assistant Secretary, SLAS, Ministry P&E.

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