Tuesday, December 25, 2012

For a medicine Modernity reserved for the military, penicillin sure missed a lot of battles ...

The USSR had at least 3 million life-threatening cases of bacterial infection between August 1940 and August 1945 that penicillin could have successfully treated.

It is not well known that Russia did make it its own penicillin and did treat some serious infections with it and saved some lives as a result during those five war years.

Sort of.

Soviet doctors treated 300 cases with their penicillin over those five years : out of at least 3 million life-threatening cases.

Not surprisingly, the Miracle of Penicillin does not loom highly in Russian historical accounts of the Great Patriotic War.

This too might easily have been the fate of wartime penicillin in the Allied West as well.

A few thousand cases treated in all, a few hundred in life-threatening situations, a few dozen front line military casualties.

Out of tens of millions of potentially life-threatening infections among the Western Allies that it was fully capable of curing.

For a medicine supposedly denied civilian use because it was needed at the battlefront, penicillin was decidedly gun-shy.

Between May 1940 and May 1941, it was proven up as a potentially unique life-saver and government fiat could have directed a gradually scaling up of production of penicillin, using the technology known at the time.

The government could have monitored the success or failure of penicillin at the Home-Front based military hospitals , which routinely treat every know disease , not just those gained in combat.

The military all by itself, at least in wartime , holds an enormous proportion of a nation's population : all ages from 17 to 67, mostly male but some female.

It can become the clinical lab, all by itself, to prove up or fail a new medication - without going anywhere near the rugged conditions at the front - rightly judged unsuitable for most experimental drugs.

Open-wound-oriented antiseptics are mostly useful on the battlefield itself, but general systemics are best used in rear base hospitals.

I suggest it was the obsession of a group of chicken-hawk medical bureaucrats , who had successfully avoided WWI when young and fit, which kept the definition of a successful medication limited to its battlefront use.

Ironically, they lacked the knowledge that real front line veterans like Henry Dawson already knew : that most military medicine is done well behind battle lines.

No Prime Minister or President, no Cabinet or Cabinet minister, no Parliament or Congress ever passed any statute or proclamation that limited the scarce wartime resources devoted to penicillin during the first four or five years of a six year war to almost nothing.

Un-elected, un-representative doctor-bureaucrats made that decision : they must bear the moral burden of explaining that signal failure of professionals swore to save lives, failing to save lives
on the most massive scale ever known to humanity......

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