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Private profits

Sir — The conflict between celebrities’ right to privacy and people’s right to information is not likely to be resolved by the London high court’s judgment — which is, at best, ambiguous — on the Catherine Zeta-Jones case (“Not a picture perfect win”, April 12). One tends to sympathize with Hello!’s point that the celebrity couple had forfeited their right to privacy by deciding to sell their wedding pictures to OK!, because a couple as eager to make money as these two cannot really be concerned about privacy. Any compensation in this case ought to flow — certainly not to Zeta-Jones — but to OK! as its financial interests were affected. One must remember that OK! had already paid a huge sum to the couple. It is more than clear now that the couple’s real problem is that they want the world to see sanitized pictures of their wedding, and not ones which catch them off-guard. It amounts to censorship, and as the Hello! publishing director pointed out, it is all about “money and control”.

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Pal, Calcutta


Too serious

Sir — The West Bengal health minister’s arrogant claim that his state does not have a single case of severe acute respiratory syndrome is ridiculous (“No scare of virus: Surjya”, April 12). The World Health Organization first reported SARS, a very new human disease of unknown etiology, only in late February although it is now apparent that the disease probably erupted in parts of China as early as November, 2002. According to the latest available WHO data, 2,890 SARS cases have been reported from around the world till April 11, 2003.

The list covers 19 countries (taking China, Hong Kong and Taiwan as a single entity) which does not include India. Thus, it is not only in West Bengal, but the whole of India, that no positively identified SARS cases have been reported.

Recent studies from several medical centres have found the evidence of a new strain of “coronavirus” in many, but not all, SARS patients. This virus, a type of RNA viruses, is not new for humans. Several types of these viruses are known to cause respiratory infection. The new “coronavirus” isolated from some SARS patients, however, appears to be genetically different. It may be noted that none of the different diagnostic tests, such as ELISA, IFA and RT-PCR, which are currently available for identification of “coronaviruses” are foolproof. Thus, a negative result for “coronavirus” from a single patient may not totally rule out the possibility of SARS.

It is important for the health minister and Indian doctors to remember that there is no concrete evidence as yet that the new “coronavirus” actually causes SARS. All studies and reports only suggest that the virus may be associated with SARS. It is entirely possible that other micro-organisms and/or unknown factors are actually responsible for the disease.

Indeed, a Canadian study published in the March 31, 2003 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found the presence of the new virus as well as a human “metapneumovirus” in five of nine patients with SARS. Four of these patients were co-infected with both of these viruses. Many more studies are necessary before the story of SARS can be fully understandable to the medical world and a definite therapy against it developed. It is possible that the infectious agents responsible for SARS have not been transmitted to India as yet. It is also possible that these agents have still not been identified. But there is no room for complacency, as no one knows how these infectious diseases may spread in today’s fast moving world. There is no reason at this stage to panic either, in fear of an impending devastation by SARS. The doctors in India need to keep themselves updated with the latest progress on the illness through dependable resources like the Centre for Disease Control (www.cdc. gov/ncidod/ sars/treatment.htm) and WHO (www.who.int/ csr/sars/management/en) websites.

Yours faithfully,
Kunal Saha, Columbus, US


Sir — The news about suspected SARS cases arriving at different airports is alarming (“Youth arrives with virus signs”, April 10). The CDC and WHO declarations on SARS clearly state that no specific treatment recommendations can be made yet, as the etiology is yet to be determined. The same confusion exists regarding the diagnosis and evaluation of the disease. As such, protection, isolation, quarantine and barrier methods remain the only reliable modes of preventing this potentially fatal ailment.

What is puzzling is that the health authorities of our country do not appear to have taken the threat seriously at all. India hardly has the infrastructure to deal with an epidemic like SARS. Why can’t the authorities simply follow the policy of banning all tourists coming from SARS-hit zones from entering Indian territory' If Malaysia can take the draconian measure so boldly (“Malay ban on China tourists”, April 10), what is stopping us in implementing the same' Or, is the government inviting the epidemic with an eye to checking the alarming growth rate of population in the country'

Yours faithfully,
Subhadip Pal, Calcutta


Sir — If reports are to be believed, the dreaded SARS virus has already made an entry into Mumbai through the American national who returned after a visit to southeast Asia where the epidemic is raging. The American lady’s companion, who has gone to Agra, is also likely to have contracted the disease. Earlier, there were unconfirmed reports that the virus had hit Bhopal. If the advance of the disease is not tackled on an emergency footing, the consequences will be staggering. Thousands died of plague at the beginning of the 20th century in Calcutta, and the havoc wrought by plague a few years back in Surat is too recent to forget.

It is reassuring to note that scientists at SRL Ranbaxy Limited have brought out an indigenous kit to combat the disease, but it is priced too high for the average Indian. The government may arrange for distribution of the kits at a subsidized price. Of course, all these may not be necessary if — and let us hope for this — the scare of the virus having entered the country is belied.

Yours faithfully,
S. Ram, Calcutta


Bitter truth

Sir — The television commercial for a renowned chocolate manufacturer is indirectly teaching youngsters to lie. The screen daddy persuades his son to tell the mother on the phone that the father has left home, when in fact he is watching television. The son demands a chocolate in return for telling this lie.

There is no doubt that this commercial is bringing in a lot of revenue to the company, and by extension, to the TV channels. But the price to pay for this is in terms of moral values. This is all the more damaging because chocolate is a product whose target consumers are children.

Yours faithfully,
Arpita Chandak, Howrah


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