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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 1591

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Journal Article

Dabade G.
Remembering a health campaigner
Deccan Herald 2005 May 23;

Full text:

Dr Olle Hansson waged a relentless struggle against companies manufacturing hazardous drugs

May 23 is observed in many parts of the world as Anti-Hazardous Drug Day in memory of the late Dr Olle Hansson. He passed away at the age of 49 on May 23, 1985.

Dr Olle Hansson was a Swedish neurologist and pediatrician. He was lecturer at the universities of Uppsala and Göteborg, and became internationally known as an advocate for patients, who had become victims of drug-induced suffering, in their fight against pharmaceutical companies.

His name is closely associated with his fight against Clioquinols (also known as Mexaform – a drug that was extensively used to treat common diarrhoea). The drug paralysed and blinded 20,000 or 30,000 people in Japan alone. The official figure is 11,007.

Dr Olle not only provided scientific proof about absorption of the drug from the gut when ingested (the drug company kept denying this), but he was the first to report blindness associated with the drug. He wrote in scientific medical journals and in the general press persistently for several years, warning the medical community and consumers about drug-related hazards.

Dr Hansson also stood as an expert witness in the Tokyo District Court on behalf of the victims of SMON (Subacute Myelo Optic Neuropathy) and their relatives – to support their fight for compensation against the giant multinational, Ciba Geigy. (Ciba-Geigy merged with Sandoz and formed the currently existing Novartis during the year 1996).

Relentless battle

He fought relentlessly a battle against the needless drug-induced suffering and for “patient’s right to information”. Dr Hansson’s greatest attribute was his ability to inspire others with his incredible courage.

He was the leading light in the consumer and health movement as he fought for truly ‘rational and socially just’ use of drugs with humility which is a feature of truly great men. He had all the elements of a great health campaigner – scientifically sound facts and arguments, persistence and perseverance, honesty and integrity coupled with humility.

Because of his relentless struggle the company removed the drug from the global market thus putting an end to SMON – a drug induced disease that had blinded and paralysed thousands. The company eventually released an apology to the victims of its drug: “We who manufactured and sold Clioquinols drugs deeply sympathise with the plaintiffs and their families in their continuing unbelievable agony; there are no words to adequately express our sorrow. In view of the fact that medical products manufactured and sold by us have been responsible for the tragedy, we extend our apologies, frankly and without reservation, to the plaintiffs and their families.” In March 1985, Ciba Geigy finally took the drug off the market worldwide.

His book entitled Inside Ciba Geigy (a publication of the International Organisation for Consumers Union, Malaysia), exposes the misdeeds of the giant drug company.

He wrote this book because of his deep feeling of responsibility. “This book is an accusation against Ciba Geigy that they have caused, despite better knowledge, unnecessary suffering and death and that, in their greed for more profit, they have consciously endangered the life and health of people. As a physician I had no other choice, because the highest goal of physicians is to prevent suffering.”

The book is pertinently “dedicated to those who, when in doubt, are more faithful to their conscience than to their boss.”

Tenacious fighter

Afflicted with cancer of the lung, he continued his fight against the Swiss giant Ciba Geigy to ensure withdrawal of Mexaform and other harmful drugs like Butazones from the global market by publishing scientific information related to deaths and disability of over thousands after consuming these drugs. He was one of the greatest health campaigners, who believed in firm adherence to medical ethics.

The day of his death, May 23, is observed as the Anti-Hazardous Drug Day in several parts of the world. Even twenty years after his death, it is still time to recollect and reflect the relevance of his great and unique work, in the Indian context.

The Indian market is flooded with around 80,000 formulations. Most of these drugs are irrational (ie, they have no scientific background) and many are even hazardous! Countless drugs banned by the Drug Controller, Government of India, still continue to find place in our medical shops! Dr Olle’s call – “Now is the time for action” – is a reminder to the government drug regulatory authorities, consumer groups, medical doctors, social conscience citizens, political parties and other leaders of their duties. They should save the common man from drug-induced suffering!


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