• Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020
  • Last Update : 09:04 am

OP-ED: The role of the press in a pandemic

  • Published at 10:20 pm August 11th, 2020
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What health journalism can achieve

The Covid-19 era has exposed the ill health of health journalism in Bangladesh. Not only as someone related to media and communication profession, but as an ordinary citizen, I cannot be satisfied with the quality of health journalism during the pandemic. 

Since I have a special interest in health advocacy, I try to follow the updates of different treatment protocols, especially the recent Covid-19 one, published in reputed international media and journals. I am surprised when I see that a lot of information is not discussed. 

The missing information ranges from a very general idea of Covid-19 treatment protocol to the political economy of medication being followed in its treatment. Let me give two examples. According to Dr Sandor Toth, a virologist and immunologist of Hungary, immune boosters like Vitamin C, D, and Melatonin could be part of the Covid-19 prevention protocol, but not therapeutic protocol. 

To his view, a strong immune response may lead to the cytokine storm -- so immune boosters can be harmful to corona infected persons. This viewpoint I found to have been said by few other experts. This is very important information -- opposite to our treatment practice, which we do not see being highlighted in our media. 

We need to know our experts’ say on this. The heated debate in the US and elsewhere over the cheap treatment method of Covid-19 is also missing in our media. Many of us may have seen a recent video of Dr Stella Immanuel with other US medical professionals of a group called American Frontline Doctors, where they were claiming hydroxychloroquine to be an effective coronavirus cure. 

Not just her. Many famous doctors in the US and other countries believe this. In an article published in Newsweek on July 23, Harvey A Risch, professor of epidemiology, Yale School of Public Health, also claimed that Hydroxychloroquine was a very effective drug if given early in the course of illness. He believes that the lives of tens of thousands of patients with Covid-19 can be saved with this cheap drug. 

But many of these doctors believe that this drug has become highly politicized as President Trump praised it and some others believe big pharmas’ roles in not allowing the drug to treat people. We are seeing a similar debate among the doctors in this part of the world about the use of Ivermectin in treating patients with Covid-19. 

Dr Tarek Alam of Bangladesh is one of the pioneers in the world in prescribing Ivermectin with Doxycycline as an effective treatment protocol for coronavirus. Almost all of his patients in several hospitals are believed to have been cured using this cheap drug. 

Dr Tarek Alam has become a very revered and oft-quoted medical practitioner now in the world because of his treatment protocol. We now see many grassroots health movements in Latin America and elsewhere are urging people to accept Ivermectin as an effective drug to treat Covid-19. 

But people are still dying and being infected in our country day in day out and I find Dr Tarek Alam’s treatment protocol is downplayed in our mainstream media. In the Covid-19 era, no medical advice is conclusive. But journalists should convey all the debates and information to the audience so that people and health professionals remain aware of the developments. 

In our country, we see that journalists depend on two sources while naming any medication -- first, on the doctors of the country and secondly on the big foreign news agencies. What they are missing is that people of different parts of the world are responding to different treatment protocols in different ways. 

Our journalists are failing to understand the political economy of Covid-19 medication and the bureaucratic apparatus involved in WHO, FDA, CDC, and other organizations. If they listen to different health professional groups in the world, they would find out how big pharmas are intimidating health and medical professionals for the use of cheap drugs and how they are even being threatened with revocation of their licenses. 

This could provide the readers with more insights about the business of big pharmaceutical companies whose businesses are no less detrimental to the common people than the global arms trade. Almost every day, our mainstream media is reporting that our doctors are dying because of Covid-19. Have they done any research on how our doctors are dying on such a massive scale compared to other countries?

I talked to doctors from different countries online, including India, and learned something very interesting. In addition to the quality masks, PPE, and other protective equipment, they are taking prophylactic medication like Ivermectin, Hydroxychloroquine, or Chloroquine. 

I have found that in many countries, people with high exposure of Covid-19 patients are using these drugs with success. Finally, I want to quote Dr Sandor Toth again. 

According to him, in emergencies, evidence-based drugs are more important than long clinical trials needed by the bureaucracy. Our health journalists must follow this principle to save peoples’ lives, and they must listen to the experts and examples of different countries. They must convey the messages -- policy- makers and health professionals will do the rest. 

Md Shamsul Islam is a media consultant and a newspaper columnist. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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