Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents

Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents
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Dr. Talal Nsouli with former US president Bill Clinton. (Supplied)
Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents
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Dr. Talal Nsouli with former US president George W. Bush. (Supplied)
Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents
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Cars and motorcycles drive through to show support for protesters rallying in downtown San Diego against California's stay at home order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, on April 18, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 23 April 2020

Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents

Talal Nsouli: The Arab who became doctor to US presidents
  • Dr. Talal Nsouli says the new coronavirus is perfectly organized to target all organs and to kill people
  • The Arab American allergist believes the anti-malaria drug HCQ is a potential treatment for COVID-19

NEW YORK CITY: The threat of COVID-19 has propelled new cadres of health experts into the public eye. Audiences are desperate for a glimmer of hope in a doctor’s reassuring words that tell of a treatment that works, or a vaccine study picking up much-needed speed.

Dr. Talal Nsouli has suddenly found himself much in demand. Director of the Watergate and Burke Allergy and Asthma Centers in Washington DC, he was the personal allergist of Bill Clinton, as well as a consultant to the former president’s successors George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump.

“My father is the most important person in my life,” Nsouli told Arab News. “He was interested in science and always spoke from the bottom of his heart without hiding anything, which is both good and bad, because you know how things are in life.”

Nsouli has taken after his father. It does not take much insight to realize that his outspokenness is akin to that of an innocent child.

Born in Mexico to Lebanese parents, he grew up with an idyllic image of Lebanon that seems to remain in his consciousness untarnished by the civil war and the following tumultuous years leading up to the country’s recent economic collapse.

 

 

“My father always told me Lebanon was the ideal place to live.” After a pensive pause, he repeated, loading his words with more conviction: “The ideal place to live. It’s a country of culture, beautiful beaches and mountains. But most of all, the family is there.”

Nsouli had a “fantastic experience” growing up in America, where he never felt “any discrimination whatsoever. Lebanon is family values. America is simplicity.”

He became who he is by “working very hard, always looking to improve, but also donating my time to help others achieve. The key is to keep up with advances in medicine and always distinguish yourself by providing state-of-the-art medicine and customer service. We have to believe in ourselves as well.”

The conversation with Nsouli, while intensely focused on the deepest issues of our time, flows smoothly.

He has a way of making the most intricate scientific jargon accessible to anyone who wants to listen.

A few minutes into our chat, the “ineluctable guest” soon made its way into the conversation: Coronavirus.

The scientist is bemused by this invisible enemy. He rapidly runs a tally of what he knows about it so far: “The coronavirus is perfectly organized to kill people. This is like nothing we’ve seen before.”




Dr. Talal Nsouli with former Vice President Al Gore. (Supplied)

He added: “Often viruses either get to the immune system, the lungs or the liver. But this one is extremely aggressive and has the potency to address the majority of organs in the body.

“It targets the bronchial airways and destroys the two cells that allow us to breathe: Pneumocytes 1 and 2. So when the virus hits, no more oxygen, and the apparatus that brings in the oxygen collapses. This is a major disaster.

“The virus was shown to also attack the heart, causing myocarditis; the kidneys, causing kidney failure; the brain, causing encephalitis; the gastrointestinal system, causing bleeding; the liver, causing hepatitis. There’s nothing left!”

Nsouli is baffled that even such an unfathomable enemy is deterring neither Republicans nor Democrats from politicizing it, sparring over all the aspects of the fight. “I’m very disappointed that we didn’t unify,” he said.

Of all the politicized issues, perhaps the thorniest is COVID-19 treatment. In his daily press briefings, Trump has hyped hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), the anti-malaria drug, as a potential treatment, and eagerly encouraged the public to use it, asking: “What do you have to lose?”

Nsouli condemns what he termed the “billion attacks” against Trump for getting behind the drug.

“The president isn’t flipping a coin. He’s talking to the biggest experts in the world. He wants to give hope to people. And hope is important. This isn’t fake hope.”

On many of his TV interviews, Nsouli sang the praises of HCQ, triggering a flood of requests from patients to get the drug.

“Let me be clear. People misunderstood me on TV. The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any drug yet for COVID-19,” he told Arab News.

But while he reiterates that all medication needs investigation, he goes on to make the case for HCQ.

“HCQ has been around for 40 years. It’s the most prescribed medication on Earth. This shows how much we know about it and how safe it is. It’s taken by people who have rheumatoid arthritis or autoimmune diseases like lupus,” he said.

“And now I’m going to convince the whole world of its efficiency: People in Africa have to take the anti-malaria vaccine or medication. As a result, what’s the death rate of coronavirus in Africa? It’s almost non-existent there!” he added.

“The virus needs a certain type of acid and alkalinity to enter and subdue our cells against us. HCQ has an effect on acidity. It stops the virus from replicating itself.

“Coronavirus causes inflammation and destroys the lungs. HCQ blocks the release of inflammatory mediators. The only potential side effect could be an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia.”

Studies showed that cardiovascular risks could be deadly with HCQ, and potentially increased with COVID-19 patients.

A French study detailed 43 cases of “heart incidents” tied to HCQ, warning that the drug should be administered in hospitals under medical supervision.

Most hospitals in New York and other states are not prescribing it to the ambulatory population until clinical trials can clarify who would benefit and who would be at too big a risk, according to doctors approached by Arab News.




Dr. Talal Nsouli with Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Supplied)

But Nsouli is having none of it. “That’s all politics. I’d like to know if the doctors you spoke with are Republicans or Democrats. It makes a big difference,” he said.

“I agree that studies need to be done appropriately, but if you wait one year for a study to finish, the globe will disappear!” he added.

“I’d like to challenge that doctor who refuses to give patients HCQ and ask him: What else do you have to suggest? That doctor is going to tell me that he’ll put the patient in hospital, and if they get bad he’ll give them water and salt IV fluid, and if they have difficulty breathing he’ll shovel a tube in their throat, and if they still won’t breathe he’ll put them on a ventilator. You know what the ventilator death rate is? Eighty percent!

“I’ll punch that doctor in the face. I’ll tell him, ‘Shame on you! You shouldn’t be a doctor. Get the heck out of here!’”

Nsouli is calling for nothing short of a complete overhaul of the scientific approach to coronavirus.

He says politicians, academicians, legislators and researchers all need two tracks. One should be for studies, where instead of the regular 2,000 researchers, 40,000 should be hired.




Three potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccines are kept in a tray at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020, (AFP/File Photo)

The second should be an emergency track where all the medicines that have shown positive effects (Favilavir, Remdicivir, Iver Mektin etc.) could be used in the right dose, with the right patient and at the right time, “because medicine isn’t a Godiva chocolate that you dole out to people.”

Asked how this whole pandemic ordeal will change us as humans, Nsouli said: “It’s going to be a very good change. We’ll be prepared next time for this type of attack, be it natural or bioterrorist. We’ll have our own protection and masks, and won’t depend on China.”

He added: “I’m a personal friend of (former) Vice President Al Gore, but if I’m concerned about global warming and I’m ignoring a vicious bioterrorist attack that upsets the whole globe, it means I’m not thinking the right way.”

Thus we ended on a rather different note than peaceful, picturesque Lebanon and simple, blissful America. But who is immune to the fears that this pandemic continues to stoke?


France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’
Updated 2 min 8 sec ago

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

France hails Chad president Deby as ‘courageous friend’

PARIS: France on Tuesday paid tribute to Chad’s president Idriss Deby Itno as a “courageous friend” and “great soldier,” while urging stability and a peaceful transition in the African country after his shock death.
The veteran leader died from wounds sustained while commanding troops fighting a rebel incursion, according to the army, opening a period of uncertainty in Chad, a key strategic ally of the West in the Sahel region of Africa.
“Chad is losing a great soldier and a president who has worked tirelessly for the security of the country and the stability of the region for three decades,” the office of President Emmanuel Macron said in statement, hailing Deby as a “courageous friend” of France.
The statement also emphasised France’s insistence on the “stability and territorial integrity” of Chad as it faces a push by rebel forces toward its capital, N’Djamena.
Defense Minister Florence Parly praised Deby as an “essential ally in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel” while emphasising that the fight against jihadist insurgents “will not stop.”
Deby’s son was immediately named transitional leader as head of a military council as both the government and parliament were dissolved, but the army vowed “free and democratic” elections after an 18-month transition period.
The statement by the French presidency underscored “the importance of the transition taking place under peaceful conditions.”
There should also be “a spirit of dialogue with all political and civil society actors, and allowing the rapid return to inclusive governance based on civil institutions,” it added.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was important that the transition would lead “after a limited period of time” to the establishment of a civilian and inclusive government to serve Chad’s people.
Deby had ruled Chad with an iron fist since taking power on the back of a coup in 1990, but was a key partner in the West’s anti-jihadist campaign in the troubled Sahel region, where France’s 5,100-strong Barkhane force is deployed.


Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
Updated 20 April 2021

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants

Chad President Idriss Deby killed in clashes with militants
  • Deby said he was headed to the front lines to join troops battling “terrorists”
  • Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders

N’DJAMENA: Chad’s President Idriss Deby has died while visiting troops on the frontline of a fight against northern rebels, an army spokesman said on Tuesday, the day after Deby was declared the winner of a presidential election.
Deby, 68, came to power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders.
His campaign said on Monday he was joining troops battling what he called extremists after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of km (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
The cause of death was not yet clear.

A four-star general who is a son of Chad’s slain president Idriss Deby Itno will replace him at the head of a military council, the army announced Tuesday.
“A military council has been set up headed by his son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno,” the army’s spokesman, General Azem Bermandoa Agouna, said on state radio.
Army spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna announced his death in a broadcast on state television, surrounded by a group of military officers he referred to as the National Council of Transition.
“A call to dialogue and peace is launched to all Chadians in the country and abroad in order to continue to build Chad together,” he said.
“The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order.”
Western countries have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh in the Sahel.
Deby was also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
His election victory had given him a sixth term in office but the April 11 vote was boycotted by opposition leaders.


Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
Updated 20 April 2021

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths

Russia reports 8,164 new COVID-19 cases, 379 deaths
  • The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours
MOSCOW: Russia reported 8,164 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including 1,996 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 4,718,854.
The government coronavirus task force said 379 people had died in the past 24 hours, pushing its total death toll to 106,307.
The federal statistics agency has kept a separate count and has reported a much higher toll of more than 225,000 from April 2020 to February.

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
Updated 20 April 2021

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan

NGOs seek $5.5 bn to rescue 34 mln people from famine in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan
  • $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million

GENEVA: More than 260 non-governmental organizations signed an open letter on Tuesday calling on governments to donate $5.5 billion to prevent famine in 2021 in countries that include Yemen and South Sudan.

The sum has been called for by the United Nations’ World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We call on you to provide the additional $5.5 billion needed for urgent food assistance to reach more than 34 million girls, boys, women and men around the globe who are a step away from famine. This assistance must begin immediately,” the open letter said.

The letter was penned by NGOs working with an estimated 270 million people “facing hunger, starvation or famine all over the world.”

They include Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Tearfund, Save the Children and Care International

“In Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, DR Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Sudan and beyond we help people who are doing all they can to simply get through one more day,” the letter said.

“These people are not starving, they are being starved.”

“It is human actions that are driving famine and hunger and it is our actions that can stop the worst impacts,” the NGOs insisted.

“There is no place for famine and starvation in the 21st century. History will judge us all by the actions we take today.”


EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
Updated 20 April 2021

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies

EU expands sanctions against Myanmar military, companies
  • Latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies
  • Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders

BANGKOK: The European Union expanded its sanctions against Myanmar’s military leaders and army-controlled companies ahead of a regional meeting to discuss the worsening crisis after army leaders deposed the elected government.

The Council of the European Union’s latest sanctions target 10 individuals and two military-controlled companies already subject to sanctions by the US, Britain and other governments.

It is unclear if such moves are having any impact as the military escalates its efforts to crush opposition to its seizure of power. Myanmar’s economy is already in crisis, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and by the mass civil disobedience movement that arose following the Feb. 1 coup.

The EU said the number of individuals sanctioned was expanded to 35 people it said were responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law, for repressive decisions and for serious human rights violations.

The two military-controlled companies, Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Ltd. (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corp. (MEC), have vast holdings in many industries and help to fund the military.

All are subject to having their assets frozen, travel banned and other measures. EU citizens and businesses are banned from doing business or providing funds to them without special permission.

“Today’s decision is a sign of the EU’s unity and determination in condemning the brutal actions of the military junta, and aims at effecting change in the junta’s leadership,” the EU said in a statement.

“Today’s decision also sends a clear message to the military leadership: continuing on the current path will only bring further suffering and will never grant any legitimacy,” it said.

Since the coup, security forces have killed at least 738 protesters and bystanders, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests. It says more than 3,200 people are still detained, among the nation’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

The EU already had an embargo on sales to Myanmar of arms and equipment that can be used for internal repression; an export ban on dual-use goods for use by the military and border guard police; export restrictions on equipment for monitoring communications that could be used for internal repression, and a prohibition on military training for and military cooperation with the army.

Last week, the US S&P 500 said it was removing India’s Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. from its sustainability index due to its alleged dealings with Myanmar authorities. Adani did not respond to a request for comment on that move.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday exhorted the UN Security Council to act immediately to halt the violence and protect civilians. So far, the council has not taken such action, which would likely be blocked by China and Russia.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is holding a summit on Myanmar this month — maintains a policy of “non-interference” in each others’ political matters and has rejected the idea of imposing sanctions against the junta.

Ban urged ASEAN to send a high-level delegation to Myanmar. He said he had tried unsuccessfully to make a diplomatic visit himself.