24 April, 2020

Cold West, Hot East

Annapurna Express, 24/04/2020

Despite evidence coronavirus has spread rapidly in rich, developed countries, and left poor countries unscathed, WHO keeps up the official pretense that it will affect all countries equally. This, in fact, has shown not to be the case, after almost 3.5 months of global contagion.

If the scientific establishment was in the service of science (and not in the business of pushing forth the notion of European hegemony and supremacy, or marketing Big Pharma drugs), it would be asking the question: why? What are the factors which are enabling the spread of this pulmonary disease in developed economies?

Several things stand out to me. First, the evidence that the coronavirus can survive 72 hours on plastic. All economies devastated by the virus are plastic economies. People use plastic credit cards to pay for goods and services, they eat their takeout meals out of plastic food containers, they buy their food from plastic bowls which have been touched by multiple hands on the chain of supply.

Second, despite the evidence, all health services have also pushed the notion that plastic is sanitary. Plastic is the only material from which PPE, which protects health workers, can be made. As you can surmise, this notion is problematic and may have led to many deaths of those at the health frontlines. The PPE may be infecting patients as well.

Third, rich economies rely heavily on refrigeration. Food which has been sitting for hours in a cooler is considered fit to take out and eat, without warming. As anyone in South Asia knows, anything that is not hot off the stove can harbor viruses and bacteria—we know this to our detriment from many cholera, diahorrea and other seasonal epidemics tied to hygiene. Yet in developed economies this concern is waved off as a cultural superstition of Third World peoples. Surely the much vaunted civilized cities of the West are so much more advanced with their fridges and cold sandwiches?

There’s also the Asian notion that food that is cold in temperature can cause colds and flus. This is considered to be a quaint belief by the West, where ice-creams can be consumed in the middle of winter in sweltering hot centrally heated restaurants. For Asians, cold comes not just through temperatures but certain foods which are considered to be cool/cold foods on the bodily temperature spectrum. Cucumbers and watermelons, for instance, are cooling foods, while ginger and chilli are warming foods.

This reminds me of the children’s game which we used to play in the past, where a blindfolded child has to find someone who’s hiding. He/she is taken around by another who says “Cold, cold, cold,” or “hot, hot, hot” depending upon how close the blindfolded seeker is to the hidden person they’re trying to find. “Cold” refers to “you’re off the mark.” “Hot” means “you’re very close.” Seeking the cause of coronavirus, it appears to me, could do with this childhood strategy—“Cold, cold, cold” and “you’re about to give yourself a cold with this chilly food” and “hot, hot, hot” meaning “see all those Third World people who pressure cook their food twice a day, do not eat out, and so far haven’t caught the flu? Yes, maybe it’s the hot food that’s keeping them alive!”

Fourth, there is no Amazon distributing large numbers of plastic wrapped packages in the countries where contagion is low or negligible. Amazon has been in the news for several reasons-low paid workers, difficult work conditions, inability of workers to organize and ask for healthcare, lack of testing for covid. There’s also a recent case in which a worker tested positive after Jeff Bezos visited the “fulfillment center.” These are perfect conditions for coronavirus infected workers to spread disease all across the country via niftily delivered packages.

Fifth, the lack of well-equipped hospitals may in fact have been be a boon in poor countries. A very high percentage of people who were intubated are dying after the procedure. Doctors have now gone on record saying that they mistook the very low oxygen count and automatically put people on ventilators, not paying attention to the fact people were sitting up and talking despite very low oxygen figures. The doctors have also said that the cases they see are more like altitude sickness, more than the normal kind of respiratory distress they were used to seeing in the past.

The one factor consistent amongst Third World economies: a reliance on herbal healing. Due to lack of big machines, most people in Third World countries know a local remedy to cure respiratory problems. The Tibetan Government in Exile just handed out a black pill composed of nine herbs to its citizens—perhaps it is the first government to do so. India’s Ayush Ministry has been active online, advising people to take Ayurvedic remedies, including “golden milk”—a small teaspoon of turmeric with hot milk. Just as the rationalists (who are dropping like flies) give a disbelieving laugh, they should first do the research on which system is winning the war here.

I would personally recommend garlic soup and timmur (Sechuwan peppers) to people feeling unwell. Those two cured me of my altitude sickness when I got a pounding headache at Langtang, at 3500 feet. If nothing, the timmur will force oxygen into your lungs without the invasive presence of a ventilator.