Out of focus

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Tuesday 31 August 2004

Kill or Cure Rockhopper Productions Ltd BBC World May 14 to June 18, 2004

We have our fair share of diseases -- malaria, tuberculosis (tb), diarrhoea -- but we cannot boast of an equal number of cures. We have received umpteen perorations on how much we receive from our more fortunate cousins -- the industrialised word. The documentary series, Kill or Cure, aired on bbc World, is yet another reminder.

Each of the first three films focuses on a vector borne disease. The inaugural film focuses on the ravages of malaria. It voices concern over the dwindling efficacy of the popularly used malarial drugs even as the plasmodium develops a resistance to them. It goes on to acknowledge the efforts of the charitable organisation, Medicines for Malaria, in distributing the new low-cost drug, artemisinin.

The film on elephantiasis, too, lingers on pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Merck & Co, Inc. for having donated a useful drug in 38 countries. Ghana and Egypt are held up as examples of grateful beneficiaries. The contribution of foreign aid is undeniable and the intention is not to discredit. But to say that it is the lone solution betrays a lack of foresight.

When it comes to a disease like tb the film makers have to abandon the back-slapping. tb is infamous for its multi-drug resistance. The convenient option then is to look the other way and focus attention on the dots programme (directly observed therapy short course) instead. A programme that has failed in India. The series also suggests that post natal immunisation can help ward off hepatitis b, but does not address the difficulties of implementing it in a country like Cambodia where most children are born at home. Overall, the film glosses over the lack of infrastructure, keeps mum on attempts at prevention and seems more like a paean in praise of certain pharmaceutical giants.

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