Monday, July 6, 2020

11.5 Million Coronavirus Cases

It's been only two days and the world has already witnessed a total of 11,550,542 coronavirus cases! 

Yesterday, Peru’s tally of infections went up to 300,000 whilst a day earlier, 10,000 people had died of Covid-19 in Russia so far.

Mexico’s situation too is especially dire – with 250,000 cases and 30,000 deaths on Sunday.

Yesterday’s Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa had fans worried stiff. The Reds were really lacklustre and struggled to find their intensity. 

Thankfully, the EPL champs managed to assuage our anxieties when they put in two goals in the second half to seal three points.

Liverpool's Senegalese forward Sadio Mane scored the opener for the home team in the 71st minute. And then Reds youngster Curtis Jones came off the bench to double the lead in the 89th minute. 

We are now at 89 points with six games remaining. As UK’s Daily Mail said: “Another 12 and they will be regarded as the greatest English champions of all time but that will only be a possible if they go through the gears again”.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Long Story on Hydroxychloroquine

The story about chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine is convoluted as it is confusing. And it can leave you feeling dazed and fazed.

But I’m going to try to put it out as coherently as I can. And if you also read between the lines, you'll get it that scientists and researchers are not very much different from the rest of us. 

Most times, most of us are driven by our own personal agendas – if we are honest to admit it, that is. It's all about 'me, myself and I'.

That explains why there is so much misinformation about Covid-19 and everything related to it. I guess everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame.

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were first identified as potential treatments for Covid-19 in February, when scientists in Beijing and Wuhan, China, found that the drugs blocked SARS-CoV-2 from infecting monkey cells in a petri dish. 

Then the eminent French microbiologist Didier Raoult (left) and a couple of dozen co-authors published two observational studies on hydroxychloroquine that’s already being used by some doctors, including Raoult himself, to treat Covid-19. 

In a paper, released on March 27, they claimed that Covid-19 patients given the drug along with azithromycin, an antibiotic, had a reduction in detectable virus. They noted “clinical improvement” in nearly all of the 80 patients tested, with the exception of one severely ill 86-year-old who died. 

They wrote that the results “confirm the efficacy” of the drug combination, and they implored fellow researchers to “urgently evaluate this therapeutic strategy both to avoid the spread of the disease and to treat patients”. 

But many other researchers were skeptical, and they wasted no time in pointing out why. For starters, the Raoult et al. study was not a randomized clinical trial, which is the gold standard in medical research. That means there was no control group. Other details seemed curious, like the fact that only 15 percent of the patients had fevers, a very common symptom of the disease. 

As one particularly thorough dissection of the study put it: “We just don’t know how good this treatment was or frankly if it was any good at all”. 

What’s notable about Raoult’s study, and perhaps why it had received outsized attention, is that hydroxychloroquine is the drug that had been taken up by the US president as a likely cure. 

On April 04, Donald Trump (left) tweeted the drug’s potential as a “game changer” for fighting the coronavirus. [Read my post titled “Two Snake Oil Peddlers” published April 14, 2020 for the background story]. 

Soon after, the Food and Drug Administration, a US federal agency granted chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine emergency use approval – a formal but temporary, green light allowing doctors to freely treat Covid-19 patients with these drugs. 

Researchers have alleged that the widespread emergency use of hydroxychloroquine early in the pandemic delayed rigorous studies to prove whether or not the drug is actually useful.

And in that same month of April, the National Institutes of Health, the US medical research agency discouraged doctors from using chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients – unless the treatment was part of a clinical trial.

In late May, a high-profile study published in the Lancet concluded that the drugs may increase the risk of death in Covid-19 patients – that study prompted WHO to suspend trials of the drugs. [Read my post titled “Dicing with Death with Hydroxychloroquine” published May 26, 2020]. 

But the authenticity of the data was soon called into question, leading to the paper’s retraction during the first week of June. [Read my post titled “Lancet's Fake Research Paper” published June 05, 2020]. 

WHO then quickly announced they were resuming trial of the said drugs – even as two research groups announced results that concluded the drugs neither treated nor prevented infections of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. 

One was by researchers at the University of Minnesota, who conducted a study of 821 people to see if hydroxychloroquine could prevent sickness in those who were recently exposed to someone with Covid-19, a treatment strategy known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). Among those who received the drug, 11.8% became sick, versus 14.3% who received a placebo, a difference that was not statistically significant (The New England Journal of Medicine, 2020, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2016638). 

[Note: The University of Minnesota’s PEP trial was said to be the first peer-reviewed study to provide data from a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of hydroxychloroquine. And which concluded that the drug did not offer any significant protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection]. 

In the UK, investigators also announced preliminary results from a study involving more than 4,600 people hospitalized with Covid-19. In the study, called the RECOVERY Trial, 25.7% of 1,542 people who got hydroxychloroquine died after 28 days, compared with 23.5% of 3,132 people who received standard care. Again, the difference was not statistically significant. 

On June 15, the FDA followed the NIH and made a similar recommendation when they revoked the emergency use authorization. 

Two days later, WHO announced that the hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) arm of the Solidarity Trial to find an effective Covid-19 treatment was being stopped. Apparently, the trial's Executive Group and principal investigators made the decision based on evidence from the Solidarity trial (including the French Discovery trial data), UK's Recovery trial and a Cochrane review of other evidence on hydroxychloroquine which showed that the drug does not result in the reduction of mortality of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, when compared with standard of care.

In spite of the above, there are scientists who remain unconvinced. Already larger studies are in the works to test chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as PEP therapies that prevent infection in healthy people. 

I wonder if any of these initiatives by scientists and researchers are really about serving humanity – or a quest for stardom?! Everybody seems to be doing their own thing. A mishmash of exertions.

As Michael White (right), head of the department of pharmacy practice at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy correctly puts it: “Everyone wants to be the captain of the ship, from the big-name investigators to institutions, but we could have made more progress in finding a very effective regimen to treat Covid-19 if everyone worked together to vet these therapies as efficiently as possible. That doesn’t seem to have happened”.

#BLM Incident in Penang

It has to happen. 

The statue of Francis Light. the slave owner who colonized Penang in 1786 had red paint splashed onto it on the morning of June 30, 2020. 

It was erected in Fort Cornwallis in 1936 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of Georgetown. 

[FYI, Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia that was built by the British East India Company in the late eighteenth century – and it is located on Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah in Georgetown, Penang].

@AntifaM3 had tweeted out photos of the vandalism on Wednesday. And according to the Malay Mail, a police report was made the following day – and the case being investigated under Section 427 of the Penal Code for committing mischief. 

It was also reported that the police are looking into the possibility that those responsible for the vandalism were inspired by #BlackLivesMatter.

I believe so too  our very own #BLM incident in Penang, Malaysia!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The US Under Siege

In his Mount Rushmore speech on Friday night, the US President said the country is under siege from ‘far-left fascism’. 

And he is not pointing at Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, China or North Korea – no sirree! – but at his fellow Americans! Go figure!

This is another example of Donald Trump as an incendiary speaker suffering from the 3D syndrome. Plainly, he's demented, deranged and delusional!

God bless America!

Mag Cover That's in Bad Taste

Netizens are up in arms over Vogue Portugal’s cover – one of four – for their upcoming July/August 2020 issue. 

Called ‘The Madness Issue’, it shows a woman naked in a bathtub, flanked by two women in old-fashioned nurse uniforms, with one pouring water over her head. 

Many have accused the magazine of being tactless by portraying an outdated and unsettling stereotype of mental illness and psychiatric hospitals. 

Clinical psychologist Dr Katerina Alexandraki (right) said: “Promoting the aesthetics of mental health is very problematic. It’s never a fashion, that is so invalidating”.

And she added: “Not to mention the history of women and mental illness. There are hundreds of stories of abuse where women are at their most vulnerable”.

On Twitter, fashion writer and contributing editor at AnOther Magazine Hannah Tindle (left) wrote: “So Vogue Portugal’s July/August 2020 issue is titled ‘The Madness Issue’ and uses the aesthetic of a psychiatric hospital as its cover. Who is approving this shit???” 

Expanding on her tweet, Hannah said: “If Vogue Portugal wanted to use their platform to discuss mental health, there are myriad ways they could have chosen to do so that is not offensive and upsetting to those who are, like me, struggling with mental illness”. 

Mental health advocate Poorna Bell (right) puts this more succinctly on Twitter, writing: “On behalf of anyone who has ever been in a psychiatric hospital or had a loved one who has been in one, honestly @VoguePortugal, f*** you”. 

“Covers like this continue to contribute to a negative stigma when it comes to mental health”, reads another tweet featuring the cover. “And all for an aesthetic purpose? This isn’t it”. 

I agree that it is in bad taste. The depiction on the mag cover is vulgar, insensitive and crude. 

11 Million Coronavirus Cases

Again, it took just 3 days for coronavirus cases worldwide to jump from 10.5 million to 11 million yesterday. 

When we zero in on the numbers todate, the United States, Brazil and India topped 2.8 million, 1.5 million and 630,000 cases respectively – they are ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 4 in the world. 

In fact, those three countries representing the Top 3 in daily infections contributed 57.2% of the world’s daily total  as of yesterday  and which indicates the severity of the Covid-19 situation there.

The US merits special mention because things have taken a turn for the worse. Its infection curve has risen in 40 of the 50 states and according to data compiled by the volunteer COVID Tracking Project, all but 10 states are showing an upswing in newly reported cases over the past 14 days.

Among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesia and Philippines continue to reel from spiralling coronavirus cases – as opposed to the other eight ASEAN countries:

And if I may add, Brazil and Peru have witnessed more than 60,000 and 10,000 deaths on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Killer PSA

“Wearing a mask can be scary. Not wearing one can be deadly” – that’s the message of this 30-second Public Service Announcement to get New Yorkers to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The idea is to help take some of the stigma out of covering up. 

And so, it stars a character who looks suspiciously like Jason, the serial killer from the Friday the 13th slasher horror films:

Liverpool’s first match after being topped EPL champions for the 2019/20 season ended in embarrassment for the Reds. 

Second-placed Manchester City trounced them 4-0 on Thursday.

Can we expect Liverpool to respond against Aston Villa this Sunday?