Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I'm baaaaaack . . .

It was just too painful to type for a few days so I decided not to bite the bullet. People ask me what I do for a living and I say I'm a medical sociologist, but now I realize that a better job description is typist. Anyway . . .

Millions of people are locked up for shoplifting and smoking pot and shooting dope, but if you steal $20 billion you're cool. I don't know how much of this you can read, but the new BMJ has a theme issue on the latest fraud of the century. The story is that in 2006, one Tom Jefferson led a Cochrane review* of neuraminidase inhibitors -- these are drugs to treat influenza, most notably oseltamavir (brand name Tamiflu, manufactured by Roche).  He concluded that it can prevent hospitalizations, shorten the course of influenza, and save lives. Accordingly, during the flu pandemic hoax of 2010-2011,** governments stockpiled huge amounts of the drug and doctors handed it out like lollipops.

Then Jefferson got a heads up from a Japanese researcher that there was a lot of unpublished data that might change these conclusions. He fought for years to get the drug companies to cough it up. They resisted every step of the way, but backed up by BMJ and powerful (mostly British) physicians, he finally got the data. What do you know? The full clinical trial data finds that the benefits of the drugs don't outweigh harms. Says BMJ International Editor Kamran Abassi:

Worryingly, the welfare of patients seems a secondary consideration for all stakeholders. Drug company executives champion their work for the benefit of patients. Regulatory authorities are responsible for protecting patients. Politicians make decisions for the public good. Yet, when faced with the sudden threat of pandemic H1N1 flu, a threat that ultimately did not materialise, each party behaved opportunistically and irresponsibly. Drug companies exploited a window for rapid sales. Regulators approved drugs with insufficient scrutiny, exposed now by the forensic approach of the Cochrane researchers. And politicians were desperate to act, to do something in the face of a perceived crisis, whether it was based on evidence or not. Patient welfare didn’t matter, although it
was the excuse for these decisions.

Hey indeedy.

*The Cochrane Collaborative is an international non-profit that publishes systematic reviews of medical treatments. It's used a gold standard reference for what works and when and with whom.

** In order to find that there was a pandemic, the WHO was forced to change the definition of pandemic flu such that we actually have one every year. 2010-2011 was a milder than usual flu season.

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