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Flattening the curve or Flattening the human rights?

In early March 2020, as the COVID-19 set to mark its presence all around the globe. There arose a term called flattening the curve, though it wasn't new to the world as it had been used by public health officials in the past also.

Flattening the curve means restricting the spread of the epidemic so that the peak number of people needing care at a given is reduced, and the health management system doesn't exceed its capacity. The theme to be adopted � the flatter the better.

An outbreak anywhere can go everywhere, said a medical historian Howard Markel of the University of Michigan. Since there is no vaccine or any proper medication, we are just left with ephemeral measures � such as maintaining social distance, staying home, use of face mask, and PPE. Contrastingly, the vaccine is the only feasible long-term solution and with shedding lights on the said term, a mountain pressure is created on the medical fraternity.

Different batches of researchers around the globe are working on more than 150 vaccines. The journey from lab-to-market consists of various phases, in between there comes a phase � clinical trial on human wherein the clumsy bargains between vaccine development and human rights come into play.

A dark history of medical trials

To get a trail of medical discrimination, we dont need to rewind the clocks too far back. Recently, a French doctor passed a controversial suggestion that Africa must be included as a part of the vaccine trial, even when the case count was relatively lower than the global north. And yes, its pretty ironic as Blacklivesmatter hovering across the continents on one hand and those grim suggestions getting voiced on the other.

In the 1990s there was a widespread disease named meningitis. Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant conducted clinical trials without obtaining consent from the patients, results were terrifying as some of them died. Though around a decade back the matter appeared out-of-court & Pfizer made to pay fine.

In the same decade, similar trials were held in Zimbabwe by the US authorities in which patients had to face the negative impacts on their health.

Medical imperialism was not just confined to Africa, the west brought the coffins to Pakistan, too in 2011. CIA organised a fake vaccination drive in order to catch Osama Bin Laden. Once again in the name of a mission, common lives were put at stake, this led to a hoo-ha between Islamabad and Washington.

India also tasted the wrath of medical dictatorship back in the 1970s, when a dark drive of sterilisation carried out by its government. The campaign was motivated by the loans sanctioned from the world bank and the UN population fund. Men were coercively dragged to sterilisation centres by police, around 60 lakh men had to bear the brunt of it. Scores of men & women died tragic deaths and the majority of them were poor and underprivileged.

In 2009, Andhra Pradesh & Gujarat collectively set up a research project for the vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded it. The vaccine was to be inoculated on adolescent girls. Later on, the Government of India ceased the program as they discovered some violations of ethical standards. However, around 20,000 girls were already vaccinated, by then. In 2011, a parliamentary enquiry committee established that the process of informed consent didnt comply with firm grounds.

Medical freedom

Medical freedom is a basic human right, having a noble pedigree. Its one of the natural rights which are in the nature of external conditions necessary for the greatest possible unfolding of the capacities of a human being. And manifestly its agreed that this medical freedom is inherent in man and cant be taken away by the state.

Medical interventions, including vaccines, have pros and cons. Forced & coerced vaccination is a plain violation of human rights. Article 6 of Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights clearly states that, Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free & informed consent of the person, based on adequate information.

India-The fundamental right to healthcare

The constitution is well equipped with the provisions guaranteeing the human rights. Article 14 of the Indian constitution talks about Right to Equality.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution ensures protection of life and personal liberty to every citizen. Here, the term Life under said article does not only guarantee breathing security, rather it integrates right to live with human dignity, right to compensation, right to livelihood etc. Further, the Supreme Court held that the Article 21, in the context of guarding human rights, has to be interpreted in conformity with relevant provisions of various international laws.

These two golden articles of the Indian constitution � Article 14 & 21 are, simultaneously, to be read to quash health discrimination and to provide with health security to one and all.

A line of demarcation needs to be drawn between medical trials and human rights violation; human rights, a feeder for humankind, arent to be kept in cold storage.�

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