Dr. Darini Rajasingham-Senanayake is a Social and Medical Anthropologist, at the International Center for Ethnic Studies, based in Colombo. Sri Lanka.
A lockdown closer home. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres walking the empty corridors of the UN Secretariat building in New York in 2020. Credit: United Nations
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Jan 7 2021 (IPS) – The currently available Covid-19 vaccines have been authorized for ‘emergency use ‘in Europe and North America. This is due to an apparent spike in Covid-19 flu cases in the northern hemisphere as winter advances. Highly advertised vaccines are being produced and rolled out at ‘warped speed’ by powerful pharmaceutical and bio-technology companies headquartered in Euro-America although their efficacy including how long their immunity lasts is not clear.
Global media and news channels like Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN and India’s NDTV have been marketing vaccines to the world with images of Prime Ministers, Vice President elects, and a Crown Prince in the Middle East taking the jab live on television– seemingly to encourage vaccine skeptics. Vaccine nationalism is growing with is intense competition among Pharmaceutical Corporations and countries that manufacture vaccines and their local partners.
However, the country-specific quantitative and qualitative data now available for many hot and humid tropical South East Asian and African countries for the year 2020, indicate that there is NO Covid-19 emergency in a vast majority of countries in the Global South, and hence little need to rush to buy vaccines.
In Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Tanzania there is a very low incidence of Covid-19 mortality when compared to average annual rates of influenza related deaths.1 In Cambodia and Laos there was not a single Covid-19 death in 2020, while Vietnam had 34 deaths and Thailand a country of 70 million there were 26 deaths due to the virus in the year 2020 according to the Johns Hopkins University official Covid-19 Data base.
Nor have doctors, nurses, PHIs, frontline health workers in quarantine centers lost lives in these Southeast Asian countries, indicating low severity of the disease when compared to Euro-America where lockdowns and curfews did not limit high mortality rates. Nor have industrial, manufacturing or agriculture sector workers died in numbers due to Covid-19 in Southeast Asian countries. Nor were hospitals and intensive care units (ICU), overwhelmed in these countries, where there have been fewer patients in hospitals in 2020 than previous years.
While the Covid-19 virus has spread to all parts of the Global South, it clearly has far less traction in tropical countries than in the so-called ‘first world’ (Euro-America): In Sri Lanka, a country of 22 million there were 204 Covid-19 comorbidities deaths recorded with 35,300 Covid-19 positive tests, although in a normal year between 4,000 and 6000 people die of influenza co-morbidities
The luxury 14 floor Asiri Central Hospital in the capital Colombo was closed for weeks during the first Covid-19 lockdown. In India according to WHO data published in 2018, Influenza and Pneumonia Deaths reached 616,531 or 6.99% of total deaths, while lung Disease Deaths were 819,570 or 9.30% of total deaths in 2018, but there were fewer than 150,000 Covid-19 deaths in India in 2020. 2
Given significant differences in health infrastructure between tropical countries in Global South and Euro-America, the 2020 qualitative and quantitative data clearly shows that Covid-19 is mild in the Global South, since the ‘metric that matters’ to determine the severity of an illness and make effective, targeted policy, national policy is the infection fatality rate (IFC).
However, economically, socially and politically devastating curfews, lockdowns and isolation policies were introduced in these tropical countries on the ‘advice’ of the WHO, resulting in fear, isolation, stigmatization of patients living in crowded and poor neighborhoods, and increasing poverty and inequality.
Many low income and poor countries fell into bigger debt traps and Governments were urged to sell off strategic assets while giving ‘tax relief’ to various international corporations, investors and airlines.
Low Severity of virus but a deadly policy response
The relatively low severity of Covid-19 flu in tropical Asian and African countries compared to Euro-America where the disease is severe is arguably due to several interrelated, region and country-specific contextual factors such as year round hot and humid tropical weather (above 20 degrees Celsius), that degrades the virus and its transmission; more or less universal BCG vaccination that confers innate and trained immunity against respiratory illnesses in tropical countries; national health infrastructure including BCG monitoring; and local diet and food habits.
In the temperate regions of the industrialized world, larger volumes of processed food are consumed and non-communicable diseases that constitute the co-morbidities profile for Covid-19 are more widespread than in tropical countries, especially those where rice is a staple food.
The WHO appears to have used questionable epidemiology models, metrics and as several scientists have showed flawed PCR tests that inflate the numbers and create fear psychosis while recommending lockdown in countries in the Global South rather than use country-specific data and the tried and tested Infection Fatality Rate (IFR). The WHO’s Covid-19 global pandemic narrative has been crafted on the Case Fatality Rate (CFR), rather than the IFR which is much less by orders of magnitude as the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration note.
Treat Covid 19 like a health issue and not a disaster, wrote Jay Battacharya and Sanjiv Agarwal, in July 2020. 3 Many international scientists have exposed the fact that high numbers of false positive PCR tests account for high rates of supposedly asymptomatic cases and question the Covid-19 data presented by the WHO and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) data base.
In India highly flawed PCR tests gave up to 80 per cent false positives and a community survey was abandoned 4 Sri Lanka and many other impoverished countries in the South have been locked down and economically devastated based on false positive tests and a global media narrative that exaggerated the number of Covid-19 cases. This is in a nutshell is the Covid-19 scam.
‘Test, test and trace’ using flawed tests has been the mantra for a global policy of economically, socially and politically devastating lockdowns and isolation, implemented by government and military in many countries. However, these policies were not based on country specific, quantitative and qualitative Covid-19 data analysis and were counter-productive to the mental and physical health and well-being of the population.
In many countries in Southeast Asia, constantly shifting announcements of Covid-19 cases without context or comparison with new lockdowns keeps up the fear psychosis, confuses workers who worry about their and their family’s safety if they return to work. Constant uncertainty and unavailability of public transport has devastated economies, social and political activity, while distracting from analysis of the relevant data.
Hunger Virus: The deadly policy response in the Global South
It is not Covid-19 virus, but the Covid-19 infodemic, as well as, WHO-led international policy that has triggered a deep economic, social and political crisis in the Global South at this time. The call for lockdowns, curfews and stoppage of public transport systems, often implemented by militaries based on the “Global pandemic” narrative and infodemic of Covid-19 infection figures form the John’s Hopkins University data base with contradictory messages resulted in creation of Covid-19 fear psychosis and anxiety in many tropical countries where the Corona virus is mild. As a result, millions have not been able to go to work and have lost jobs and livelihoods in countries like Sri Lanka and Thailand.
As OXFAM’s ’Hunger Virus” Report noted: COVID-19 is deepening the hunger crisis in the world’s hunger hotspots and creating new epicentres of hunger across the globe. By the end of the year 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to COVID-19, potentially more than will die from the disease itself.
The pandemic is the final straw for millions of people already struggling with the impacts of conflict, climate change, inequality and a broken food system that has impoverished millions of food producers and workers.
The Covid-19 narrative and WHO led global policy response has increased poverty and inequality across the world and widened disparities between the Global South and north, while eroding democratic space and practices, and militarizing public life and health systems: In Sri Lanka a punishing military curfew with just 4-hours prior notice was imposed in March 2020, after which the WHO head, Tederos, called the President of Sri Lanka to congratulate him. This same policy was implemented in India a few weeks later in India, where millions of migrant workers lost jobs and many died walking hundreds of miles to get home.
Meanwhile, as OXFAM noted “those at the top are continuing to make profits: eight of the biggest food and drink companies paid out over $18 billion to shareholders since January even as the pandemic was spreading across the globe – ten times more than has been requested in the UN COVID-19 appeal to stop people going hungry.” 56 new billionaires were created in 2020.
Covid-19 reveals a deep crisis in the International Aid and Governance System
Economically, socially and politically devastating lockdowns in 2020 have wiped out development and poverty reduction gains in some of the poorest countries in the world where Covid-19 is demonstrably milder than seasonal flu. Meanwhile, all the plastic and sanitary sprays and disposable masks further contribute to the global plastic garbage and toxicity environmental crisis.
Fundamental questions arise about the integrity of data, analysis and policy “advice’ provided by WHO, the John’s Hopkins University Covid-19 Global Data base and other UN agencies. It is increasingly apparent that many of the WHO’s recommendations and policy response on Covid-19 has marginalized data, perspectives and voices from the Global South.
As Debapriya Bhattacharya and Sara Khan noted in a recent paper: “the narrative on the post-COVID world seems to be once again characterised by the usual dearth of inputs from the global South. “Even though it has been accepted time and again that actors from the Global South will be critical in shaping the emerging international development landscape, gatekeepers are yet to come out of their comfort zones and make credible space for more Southern perspectives and initiatives. The current discourse continues to have a top-down view of issues that demand more local level contextualisation and substantiation…”. 5
The international development policy response to Covid-19 in the global south has exposed a deep crisis in the UN led international Development Aid system dominated by OECD DAC countries and continuing structures of colonial domination in the UN system. The deliberately hyped “global pandemic” media narrative coupled with the WHO’s and JHU’s daily ‘infodemic’ of Covid-19 numbers of infections, has distracted from the metrics that matter to determine the severity of a disease in a particular county.
Science has been turned on its head, as Scientific Principles like regional Context and Comparison, and country-specific data analysis are important for evidence-based policy making, seem to have been be dis-regarded amidst the JHU infodmeic, enabling hi-jacking of national and local level policy processes in countries in the Global South, by so-called international development agencies and related Corporate actors and interest. The quarantining of healthy people in counties where data shows that there is no Covid-19 health emergency is counter to science and common sense!
Low Covid-19 rates and vaccine Colonialism: BCG versus mRNA
The WHO has promised to provide 20 percent of vaccines free to the Government of Sri Lanka, but questions are now being raised as to why national health authorities in many Southeast Asian and African countries where there is NO Covid-19 health emergency, are being urged by the WHO and UNICEF, with the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), providing loans to buy vaccines at this time, especially when it is claimed that there may not be sufficient doses for populations in North America and Europe where there appears to be a Covid-19 emergency?
As these vaccines have not gone through an adequate trials process and their long term impacts on populations in the Global South (where the health and nutrition statuses of people are different than in the northern hemisphere), are unknown, would it not be prudent for governments in countries where the 2020 data shows that there is no Covid-19 health emergency to await non-emergency authorization of use of these vaccines? Moreover, would not the WB and ADB loans be better spent to build back livelihoods lost due to Covid-19 curfews and lockdown policy?
On average, it takes over 5 to 10 years to systematically trial vaccines. The ultra-costly Pfizer and Biontech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, that use brand new, never before used technology, were the first to be authorized in the UK and US. The WHO’s subsequent first authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for use throughout the world has conferred ‘first mover advantage” or strong brand recognition and product loyalty on the US Govt. allied Pfizer Pharmaceutical company before other cheaper vaccine come to the market.
However, there are questions about these mRNA vaccines and suggestions that the anti-bodies they trigger may last less than 10 months, while a US nurse tested Covid-19 positive after receiving a vaccine, and another nurse in Portugal died a week after taking the vaccine.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 epidemic in Euro-America in March 2020, the WHO, contrary to many scientific studies denied outright the hypothesis that the 100-year-old BCG vaccine may be protecting populations in tropical countries with universal BCG vaccination where there were low rates of Covid-19 infections and death.
This despite the fact that numerous studies had shown that the COST-EFFECTIVE tried and tested Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG), may be useful against Covid-19 as a bridging vaccine as it protects against a broad range of respiratory tract illness in many parts of the Global South. Early BCG trials for Covid-19 adaptation seem to have disappeared from radar screens to be trumped by mRNA vaccines, as WHO contrary to many scientists had affirmed that there was ‘no evidence’ the BCG could fight Covid-19?
Are we not seeing what Naomi Klein termed “Disaster Capitalism” in her book titled “The Shock Doctrine” unfolding in Real Time? Klein uses the terms to describe the “brutal tactic of using the public’s fear and disorientation following a collective shock, be it, bio-terrorism, war, coups, market crashes or natural disasters to push through radical pro-corporate measures often called “shock therapy”. Thus, by accident or design, a disaster occurs and then the “humanitarian” business solution or cure is provided, as a total solution and complete business and profit cycle.
The WHO’s Covid-19 vaccine authorization process may reveal its cozy relationship with some big Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer that are also backed by vaccine Czar, Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Gates Foundation is now WHO’s second largest funder, after China, since Donald Trump withdrew US funding from WHO. Gates is also promoting a shift to the digital economy and surveillance that enable gaming data analytics the world over — in competition with China’s Huawei.
The WHO-led Covid-19 policy response reveals a deep crisis in the UN and International “Aid” system that is increasingly captive to Corporate interests and great power rivalry. This issue is not new as a Transparency International’s British Branch Report has noted some years ago: “Within the health sector, pharmaceuticals stands out as sub-sector that is particularly prone to corruption.”
“There are abundant examples globally that display how corruption in the pharmaceutical sector endangers positive health outcomes. Whether it is a pharmaceutical company bribing a doctor for prescribing its medicines irrespective of a health need or a government employee facilitating the infiltration of substandard medicines into the distribution system, public resources can be wasted and patient health put at risk.”
Finally, it is highly likely that in many Tropical Asian countries may have achieved a degree of ‘herd immunity’ as the flu season at the end of 2019 had all the signs of Covid-19, also given high levels of travel and tourism to and from China in the region, but since there is no systematic anti-body testing, we do not know if this is the case.
Rather than buying vaccines it would be appropriate to conduct anti-body tests to assess how many in the population have immunities and if herd immunity has been achieved as the country-level data and statistics seem to indicate. Those who would like a vaccine may take a BCG booster.
1 Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries and also Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Country-specific Data. 2 https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/india-lung-disease 3 https://theprint.in/health/lift-lockdowns-protect-the-vulnerable-treat-covid-like-a-health-issue-and-not-a-disaster/466786/ 4 The COVID-19 RT-PCR Test: How to Mislead All Humanity. Using a “Test” To Lock Down Society by Dr. Pascal Sacre https://www.globalresearch.ca/covid-19-rt-pcr-how-to-mislead-all-humanity-using-a-test-to-lock-down-society/5728483 5 COVID-19: A game changer for the Global South and international co-operation? https://oecd-development-matters.org/2020/09/02/covid-19-a-game-changer-for-the-global-south-and-international-co-operation/
- LUTH worries over increasing severe cases of covid-19 [https://www.vanguardngr.com/2021/01/luth-worries-over-increasing-severe-cases-of-covid-19/]
- Phase 3 of Russian vaccine trials on in Abu Dhabi [https://www.khaleejtimes.com/coronavirus-pandemic/phase-3-of-russian-vaccine-trials-on-in-abu-dhabi]
- Blood plasma reduces risk of severe COVID-19 if given early [https://bdnews24.com/health/2021/01/07/blood-plasma-reduces-risk-of-severe-covid-19-if-given-early]
- S. Korea says worst of third COVID-19 wave may be over : ARIRANG [https://www.arirang.com/News/News_View.asp?nseq=270426]
- New variants of COVID-19: What if they hit the world again? [https://thehimalayantimes.com/opinion/new-variants-of-covid-19-what-if-they-hit-the-world-again/]