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Indian Scientists: Mythbusters!

By Shlomo Maital

   There is a huge and growing amount of misinformation, disinformation, lies, conspiracy theories and bizarre ‘facts’ on the Internet about COVID-19.

   In a famous TED lecture in 2015 Bill Gates predicted a catastrophic pandemic that would kill millions. He said we are simply not ready to deal with it. Today, crackpots claim he is responsible for the pandemic. George Soros, too, stars in this role.

     I applaud and embrace a large group of Indian scientists who have decided to fight back. They have set up a superb website to debunk hoaxes.

     Indian Scientists’ Response to CoViD-19 (ISRC) started as a group of Indian scientists who came together voluntarily in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has now grown to include more than 500 scientists, engineers, technologists, doctors, public health researchers, science communicators, journalists and a number of students; they hail from a range of disciplines but principally the physical and life sciences; they are affiliated to eminent research institutes of science and technology, universities, colleges, hospitals and private laboratories. The group also includes Indian scientists from laboratories all over the world.

      On this website, you can find some 30 such ‘hoaxes’, some of the totally bizarre, and the scientists’ evidence they are totally made up. The material exists in some 20 languages.

I wish American scientists would join together and do the same. 

Here is one example of a myth-buster post: It is clear, simple, easy to read. We need the same in the West…



Kerala and KK Shailaja Show the Way!

By Shlomo Maital  

KK Shailaja, Kerala Health Minister

   On Jan. 21: The first case of the coronavirus is confirmed in the United States, in Seattle.

   On Jan. 22: Trump makes his first comments about the coronavirus, saying he is not concerned about a pandemic: “No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. … It’s going to be just fine.”

   Contrast this with the Health Minister of Kerala, K.K. Shailaja, a former teacher. (She is known affectionately as Shailaja Teacher). Kerala is a state in southwest India, with some 35 million people, and its population is quite highly educated; its politics are socialist and, let’s say it, Communist.

        According to a fine article in The Guardian by Laura Spinney:

     “On 20 January, KK Shailaja phoned one of her medically trained deputies. She had read online about a dangerous new virus spreading in China. “Will it come to us?” she asked. “Definitely, Madam,” he replied. And so the health minister of the Indian state of Kerala began her preparations.     Four months later, Kerala has reported only 524 cases of Covid-19, four deaths and – according to Shailaja – no community transmission. The state has a population of about 35 million and a GDP per capita of only £2,200. By contrast, the UK (double the population, GDP per capita of £33,100) has reported more than 40,000 deaths, while the US (10 times the population, GDP per capita of £51,000) has reported more than 82,000 deaths; both countries have rampant community transmission.

       What does Shailaja Teacher and Kerala understand, that President Trump does not?

       The Guardian continues: “Three days after reading about the new virus in China, and before Kerala had its first case of Covid-19, Shailaja held the first meeting of her rapid response team. The next day, 24 January, the team set up a control room and instructed the medical officers in Kerala’s 14 districts to do the same at their level. By the time the first case arrived, on 27 January, via a plane from Wuhan, the state had already adopted the World Health Organization’s protocol of test, trace, isolate and support. As the passengers filed off the Chinese flight, they had their temperatures checked. Three who were found to be running a fever were isolated in a nearby hospital. The remaining passengers were placed in home quarantine – sent there with information pamphlets about Covid-19 that had already been printed in the local language, Malayalam. The hospitalised patients tested positive for Covid-19, but the disease had been contained. “The first part was a victory,” says Shailaja. “But the virus continued to spread beyond China and soon it was everywhere.”   In late February, encountering one of Shailaja’s surveillance teams at the airport, a Malayali family returning from Venice was evasive about its travel history and went home without submitting to the now-standard controls. By the time medical personnel detected a case of Covid-19 and traced it back to them, their contacts were in the hundreds. Contact tracers tracked them all down, with the help of advertisements and social media, and they were placed in quarantine. Six developed Covid-19.”

     Spinney observes: “ The Communist Party of India (Marxist), of which she is a member, has been prominent in Kerala’s governments since 1957, the year after her birth. (It was part of the Communist Party of India until 1964, when it broke away.) Born into a family of activists and freedom fighters – her grandmother campaigned against untouchability – she watched the so-called “Kerala model” be assembled from the ground up; when we speak, this is what she wants to talk about.”

       Trump vilifies socialism without understanding what it is, calls the Democrats ‘socialists’, and his sycophants caution against becoming “like Denmark” (a society and economy far more equitable, healthy and unified than the US).  Imagine what Trump would say about Kerala, if he knew where India was on the map or what Shailaja Teacher had done.

         How many people died, because Trump leads the US and not Communist Shailaja? How many lives could have been saved, had Trump acted weeks or even days sooner?

         And will voters rightly fix the blame on his shoulders, on November 3, in the US?

         Postscript: One of the world’s leading medical journals is The Lancet. Read The Lancet’s unprecedented Editorial, showing how Trump gutted the Center for Disease Control (CDC), politicized it, and made it unable to deal properly with the COVID-19 crisis. No-one can remember the last time when a scientific journal like the Lancet has editorialized so fiercely.

[Special thanks to Pramod Arikal, my former student, for drawing my attention to this important story].

“The Poor Should Not Be Treated Poorly”

By Shlomo Maital  


From left to right:   N. Ankalamma,(mother of Chennamma), Chennamma (patient), Mr Thirumla Kondalu & Mr Karunakar (Community Based Field Staff who counselled her at her home) and Dr Nilesh Jaiswal (Ophthalmologist who performed the surgeries at the secondary centre).    

  – – – – – –

   I’ve just returned from a short trip to Hyderabad, India, where I and my co-author Prof. D.V.R. Seshadri launched our new book Smartonomics (SAGE India). While there, Seshadri and I visited the L V Prasad Eye Institute, which has treated 21 million patients since it was founded 30 years ago by Dr. G. N. Rao.   We are writing a Case Study about LVPEI.  

     Here in brief is the story. Dr. Rao and his wife Prattibha lived in Rochester, New York, in 1986. Dr. Rao had a comfortable prestigious position at the University Hospital there, as a top ophthalmologist. But he and his wife chose to return to their homeland, India, to found a world-class eye disease institute. A famous film producer L V Prasad donated the money for the land and building, in Hyderabad.  

       Dr. Rao’s vision was to provide excellent world-class eye care for all, including those who could not pay. How? Cross-subsidization. Those who could pay, would. Those who couldn’t, would not. And somehow the resources would make possible truly excellent innovative eye care, restoring vision for many many thousands. LVPEI began in 1987 with three examination rooms and 2 operating rooms, and soon expanded into 4 states, with primary, secondary and tertiary eye care reaching into the poorest rural regions.

       Dr. Rao implemented his vision of the four E’s: excellence, efficiency, equity and empathic eye care.   He expressed it as an Eye Health Pyramid (see figure):


In this model, state of the art eye care was provided at the LVPEI center in Hyderabad, India’s 6th largest city. Secondary and primary eye care was pushed out to the periphery, always under the watchful eye and supervision of the LVPEI center.   In the past 3 decades, 21 million people have been treated. Many have had vision restored. There is no greater gift.   

     This model is crucial, because however excellent, the Eye Care Center in Hyderabad is of little value for the rural poor, unless there is outreach and counselling that identifies their problems and begins to treat them. All too often, health care available in big cities is far superior to that available in the poor rural regions.

   Here is just one small story:     Nalagati Venkata Chennamma was born with visual and intellectual impairment. At the age of 8, her vision deteriorated further. Fearing high fees and Chennamma’s difficult behaviour, doctors were never consulted by the family. At the age of 20 she underwent an eye check and was declared 100% blind. But as fate would have it, five years later, Karunakar one of LVPEI’s Field Rehabilitation Service Officers visited her and spotted symptoms of cataract.    Apprehensive in the beginning, Chennamma’s mother brought her to LVPEI’s secondary centre in Markapuram on 7th November 2016. She was operated by Dr Nilesh Jaiswal for congenital cataract in both of her eyes and subsequently regained functional vision. There is a possibility that her vision can be further enhanced and she is currently undergoing treatment at LVPEI’s Hyderabad Centre of Excellence Campus. Today, her family is delighted with the outcome of the surgery and are thankful to LVPEI and its talented doctors.     There is hope that with vision restored, Chennamma can make up some ground in her intellectual development.

     Dr. Rao has just been selected for the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS)’s Ophthalmology Hall Of Fame, a rare honor given to very few. He will travel to the Los Angeles for the induction ceremony on May 6.  

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital