Archive for May 1st, 2020

Can India Beat Corona the Way It Beat Smallpox?

May 1, 2020

Terrific piece in The India Forum by Prof Harish Naraindas of JNU. One of the best on history of diseases in India.

The eradication of smallpox in India in the 1970s may throw light on the evolving corona strategies. The attempts, then & now, operate against the backdrop of a destitute landscape, & increasingly a bigoted one, where some lives are more expendable than others
A sample from smallpox history:

Around 1973, the WHO borrowed William Foege from the CDC and shipped him to India to join the effort of globally eradicating smallpox. Foege, who also went on to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, was credited with having stamped out smallpox in Nigeria. He had invented a new way of tackling smallpox under conditions of vaccine scarcity. Based on that experience, he drew up a new atlas of smallpox in India. It was an aspirational atlas that reconceived India as America.

Much to his surprise, Foege had found that vast parts of India, especially the southern states, were largely free of smallpox. Hence, he suggested that rather than seeing India as a third-world country where smallpox was endemic, it was better to conceive it as a largely smallpox-free country with pockets of smallpox (Foege 1975). The new atlas not only showed large parts of India to be smallpox free, but also allowed one to operate with the same kind of response structure that the first world operated with vis a vis the third world, which rested cardinally on seeing every case as an importation that would result in quarantine, contact tracing, and vaccination. If mass vaccination was an attempt to distribute water equally to an imagined fire everywhere, the new atlas showed the actual places on fire—the hot spots—and thus allowed one to concentrate scarce resources where they were most needed.

But what were these resources? While the obvious ones were a stable vaccine, a new instrument (the bifurcated needle), and a new technique that was quick and painless, there were several others that were needed to make the campaign a success. Perhaps the most important in the new scheme of things was the raising of a select band of highly committed volunteers, who were ready to ceaselessly search for Agent Pox and thwart him from his insurrectionary dreams.

This would be the task of Dr. R N Basu, the head of India’s smallpox eradication programme. Around the same time as it got Foege to India, the WHO persuaded Basu to spend time with a group of US Peace Corps volunteers in Ethiopia to see how smallpox eradication measures were being handled there. Basu’s time in Ethiopia, where each person, at great personal discomfort, ceaselessly criss-crossed the countryside in jeeps looking for Agent Pox, had left an indelible mark on him. It was the very antithesis of the ossified bureaucracy that he was used to.

What can India learn from the smallpox episode?

there are likely to be several moves in India that are eerily reminiscent of smallpox, with the large-scale incarceration and hosing down of the poor and the migrant with chemical disinfectants as its exemplary form; and charging clerics with culpable homicide for spreading the virus its sinister and contemporary variant.

Such moves, apart from being inhumane, are likely to be counterproductive and may come back to bite not merely the well-to-do and the bigots, but the whole country. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has woken up to the first possibility and has issued an advisory saying that hosing down persons (read the poor) with chemical disinfectants is not advisable, as it is (a) harmful, (b) not effective and (c) leads to a false sense of security and may detract persons from practicing either social distancing or hand hygiene.

Unfortunately, other than some muted remarks by a joint secretary, no such clear and unambiguous directive has been issued by the health ministry saying that demonising religious or ethnic minorities could (a) actively drive Agent Corona underground and thus help spread the infection, (b) sustain the infection for much longer, and (c) delay the exit from the lockdown.

But perhaps the most important, if India is to succeed and not have more deaths from the effects of the unprecedented global lockdown that has quarantined the earth, may be to socialise and rediscover the village and communities as coparceners in this war, albeit in ways different from smallpox, which had cleverly “enlisted” them on behalf of the vaccine.

Lots more in the piece. Thank you Prof Harish and Indiaforum for putting this up…

140 years of central banking in Romania

May 1, 2020

Mugur Isărescu, Governor of the National Bank of Romania, gives a speech on the occasion:

Recent history has shown us that central banks have always exerted their full functions within mandate to support countries and people to overcome the economic effects of wars, catastrophes and disasters of any kind. These trying times make no exception. The outstanding cooperation within the framework of the prestigious Bank for International Settlements, of its remarkable members and management, will stand proof for deepening our commitments that
bind us all.
On a more positive note, I wish to let you know that the National Bank of Romania celebrates today its 140 year anniversary. The day of April 29th has a strong historical significance. Since mid19th century, the Romanian society had witnessed swift, in-depth social, economic, political and institutional changes. So, steps were taken to found a central bank, drawn on the statutory principles of Banque de France and the National Bank of Belgium. On April 29th 1880, the Law on the establishment of a discount and circulation bank, i.e. the act laying down the setting up of the National Bank of Romania, was published, ranking our institution among the first modern central banks.
There is much more here on the website of NBR.
The National Bank of Romania was established on 17/29 April 1880 as a result of the Romanian liberal way of thinking centred on the idea of putting in place a solid credit system. The then Minister of Finance, Ion Campineanu, became the first governor, Eugeniu Carada-the true founder-together with Emil Costinescu were responsible for the organisation and functioning of the Mint, while Theodor Stefanescu was in charge of the accounting organisation of the Bank
The start-up capital amounted to lei 30 million, of which lei 10 million was state owned. The NBR was first improperly accommodated in a small space on the premises of The Rural Estate Credit. As of 16th December, the state withdrew from the association with the NBR, which turned into a privileged privately-owned bank, and the government’s rights passed on to the shareholders. The Bank was granted the prerogative to issue currency by 31st December 1920, subsequently extended to 31st December 1930.

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