By Rajiv Shah
A top American doctor, Sapan Sharankishor Desai, born and raised in the “affluent” North Shore (Chicago) region of Illinois by Indian parents, at one point of time involved in NGO activity through the Desai Foundation dedicated to “improving” the lives of the impoverished in Gujarat, is in the eyes of a major international storm following his paper in a “Lancet” questioning Donald Trump-promoted drug hydroxychloroquine.
The paper, published on May 22, co-authored by Dr Desai with Dr Prof Mandeep R Mehra (first author), Prof Frank Ruschitzka and Amit N Patel, puts to question the drug’s efficacy in the fight against Covid-19, suggesting it has an adverse impact on patients. The data released in the paper are considered a major reason why the World Health Organization (WHO) and research institutes around the world decided to halt the drug’s trials.
The controversy around Dr Desai is found reflected in an investigation in “The Guardian”, which states, a tiny US company, Surgisphere, headed by Dr Desai, was “behind flawed data” leading WHO and governments to change their health policy vis-a-vis the Trump-touted “wonder drug”. WHO, however, announced resumption of the drug’s global trial following its data safety monitoring committee found there was “no increased risk of death” from the drug.
While Dr Desai’s India connection isn’t easily available, Enacademic.com, a site having links to reference materials/dictionaries and encyclopedias, does notes his Gujarat connection: That he “the founder and Director of the New India Charity Endeavor (NICE), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization funded through the Desai Foundation and dedicated to improving the lives of the impoverished in the state of Gujarat, India.”
While no information is available on the Desai Foundation site on or about Dr Desai’s India connection, Enacademic.com is apparently the only spot where it is suggested that, through NICE, Desai, during his student days may have “worked with scientists, engineers, physicians, and politicians in India to improve the quality of life of the most under-represented groups of people in India.”
“The construction of an irrigation system, shared water supply, and shelters for more than 300 people was completed in 2002. The construction of a modern library with computer and satellite access was completed in 2005”, claims Enacademic.com, adding, there were also plans to build a modern hospital “serving the most needy.”
An effort to enter into Desai Foundation site, however, was a non-starter, as of June 4. On being opened, it states, “Oops This Page Could Not be Found!”, though further clicks takes one to medical activities of Surgisphere, though there is no information on India. The site has Surgisphere logo on the top left, and its design is similar to that of Surgisphere. As for NICE, it has no web presence. Dr Desai, presumably, abandoned his NGO activity in Gujarat.
Born in 1979, Dr Desai, who speaks in Spanish, Gujarati and English, appears to have had a chequered academic career. MD, PhD, MBA, FACS, CLSSMBB, and currently CEO of the Surgisphere Corporation, he obtained his MD and PhD in anatomy and cell biology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, MBA in healthcare management from the Western Governors University, and completed his general surgery training at Duke University, where he was faculty in 2011-2014.
The Guardian says, the tiny US company of Dr Desai was behind flawed data leading WHO and governments to change their health policy
“The Guardian” investigation, referring to the “Lancet” study, says, “The US-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive (Dr Desai), but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology.”
Making serious allegations against Dr Desai and the firm he heads, “The Guardian” claims, “A search of publicly available material suggests several of Surgisphere’s employees have little or no data or scientific background. An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist. Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess.”
“The Guardian” continues, “The company’s LinkedIn page has fewer than 100 followers and last week listed just six employees. This was changed to three employees as of Wednesday (June 3)… While Surgisphere claims to run one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world, it has almost no online presence. Its Twitter handle has fewer than 170 followers, with no posts between October 2017 and March 2020.”
It adds, “Until Monday (June 1), the ‘get in touch’ link on Surgisphere’s homepage redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, raising questions about how hospitals could easily contact the company to join its database.”
“The Guardian” says, “Desai has been named in three medical malpractice suits, unrelated to the Surgisphere database. In an interview with the ‘Scientist’, Desai previously described the allegations as “unfounded”. In 2008, Desai launched a crowdfunding campaign on the website Indiegogo promoting a wearable ‘next generation human augmentation device that can help you achieve what you never thought was possible’. The device never came to fruition.”
“The Guardian” states, “An examination of Desai’s background found that the vascular surgeon has been named in three medical malpractice suits in the US, two of them filed in November 2019. In one case, a lawsuit filed by a patient, Joseph Vitagliano, accused Desai and Northwest Community Hospital in Illinois, where he worked until recently, of being ‘careless and negligent’, leading to permanent damage following surgery.”
After WHO decided to reverse its decision on hydroxychloroquine, “Desai’s Wikipedia page has been deleted following questions about Surgisphere and his history, first raised in 2010”, “The Guardian says. Meanwhile, “Lancet” editor Richard Horton has been quoted as saying, “Given the questions raised about the reliability of the data gathered by Surgisphere, we have issued an Expression of Concern, pending further investigation.”
“An independent data audit is currently underway and we trust that this review, which should be completed within the next week, will tell us more about the status of the findings reported in the paper by Mandeep Mehra and colleagues”, adds Horton.