Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Never ever a shortage of wartime Penicillin : only a shortage of customers

Never ever were the basic details or making or using penicillin a secret during WWII - anywhere in the world - they had been published repeatedly in globally widely available medical journals and presented before international medical conferences.

Nor was there ever a shortage of therapeutic grade penicillin - again world wide.

The only thing that was in desperately short supply for penicillin in the fifteen years from September 1928 to September 1943 was customers.

No, not a shortage of patients dying for lack of the infection fighting antibiotic - they were always there in their millions - annually - worldwide.

But between them and a normal lifespan was a po-faced gatekeeper resisting penicillin with all their professional inertia : their GP.

Seemingly, it is easy for historians to demonstrate that there wasn't much therapeutical penicillin in most 1928-1943 drug company warehouses or hospital pharmacies : ipso facto , a shortage of penicillin was holding back its use.

But drug company executives and hospital chief pharmacists aren't running charities ; they will not produce or bring in a drug for which there is almost no call for.

Maybe eighty doctors , worldwide between 1940 and 1942, pushing hard to use therapeutic penicillin is hardly a market demand worth gearing up for .

Not when the pool for a drug like penicillin's rival sulfa was two billion potential patients and eighty thousand GPs eager to use it and able to pay good profitable prices for it.

Yet in the end all those doctors ended up using penicillin and most abandoned sulfa : so what changed ?

Well , in a world where effectively even in dictatorships one can choose one doctor over another , after 1943 patients  all over the world wanted penicillin and made it clear they'd abandon one doctor for another to get it.

The sins of Bill Cosby

Once the miracles of penicillin , like the sins of Bill Cosby , were common knowledge and not just controlled knowledge, not just an 'open secret' among doctors and scientists, patients demanded it - even if it was not white man-made but 'merely' dark and native.

For GPs were not hostile to all forms of penicillin - if it had been synthesized in 1928 it would have been quickly used everywhere.

But injecting in the pristine human body what was essentially the excrement of a foul-smelling slimy basement mold , like some backwoods old biddy practising her folk medicine ?

Simply not on.

Saving patients was all very worthy no doubt , but not at the cost of a loss of professional dignity and status.

Once the carefully planned pictures of refinery-like "deep tank" penicillin factories and of grave middle class men in white coats carefully tending to wall of dials were out there in the general and scientific media , GP acceptance of even native (natural) penicillin soared.

No longer , it seemed , were uneducated rural teenage girls producing native penicillin by hand in flasks in some hastily converted milk dairy.

The product itself was no longer dark and strong smelling like some sort of Polish rye bread , but through an elaborate and expensive purifying process it was now almost as white as Wonder Bread.

It didn't save lives any better - but it sure looked better.

And that was what was really important , wasn't it ...

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