25 years on, still waiting for Bhopal gas research
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This January, 25 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) invited research to study the effects of methyl isocyanate (MIC) poisoning. After 11 months, ICMR has received only two proposals. A disappointed Council has now decided to keep the 'call for research proposals' open till it gets some noteworthy submissions.
The biggest failure, according to medical experts, is that the line of treatment given to patients exposed to MIC has remained essentially unchanged since the morning of the disaster, when nothing was known about the poisonous gas.
"Two generations of victims exposed to MIC have been indiscriminately prescribed antibiotics, steroids and psychotropic drugs to 'manage' their ailments instead of finding a cure. No focused research has been conducted in developing an antidote to cyanide poisoning," said Dr DK Satpathy, who retired as director of Medicolegal Institute, Government of MP, this September. "If a patient has headache, she will be given Saridon, the same for breathlessness and all other symptoms caused by MIC."
Following the disaster, ICMR temporarily set up the Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre under Gandhi Medical College to monitor the health effects of MIC exposure. The Centre stopped monitoring mortalities in 1992. In 1994, the Centre was shut down, without publishing the findings of the studies conducted between 1984-94. No research has been conducted since.
"All medical data has indicated serious genetic mutation but no autopsy studies have been conducted. No government body can explain why the prevalence of cancer among female victims is three time the national average. No one can conclusively say what are the outcomes of MIC exposure," said Dr Alok Banerjee, director, Centre for Rehabilitation Studies.
Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), now Dow Chemicals, is yet to reveal the composition of MIC; it calls it a 'trade secret'. After initially recommending sodium thiosulphate as a detoxifying agent, Union Carbide's Dr Bipin Awasia said he had been 'mistaken' in 1984.
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