This story is by Monisha Menon and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
Zhao stood at his window in awe of the Qidong skyline and watched the ships head to sea. It was a moment of short-lived serenity. The UN and World Council on neuroscience were to descend on the city soon.
The National health and planning commission report echoed in Zhao’s ears. It was a war cry to Zhao, and he had to come up with a plan for the rising Alzheimer cases. Zhao would need to take a stand contrary to the expectation of the Council and world leaders.
Chan, his trusted adviser, brought Zhao out of his meditation. Chan was honest — a rarity in Chinese politics. He was also a formidable ally in this war against the disease of the mind.
“You look much better Zhao,” Chan said noticing Zhao’s posture and countenance. The drug was doing its job. Chan had diagnosed Zhao with early onset Alzheimer’s a few months back. Given the urgency, Zhao agreed to be a part of the first trials conducted.
The Alzheimer’s epidemic was now a burgeoning statistic. Zhao and Chan had to deal with the divide between national and provincial opinion. The difference of viewpoints among the territories was not going to stop them.
“It is indisputable Chan. We have to speed up the availability of the drug within China and other countries if possible. We have to do the right thing.”
Chan nodded and opened the report but was unaware of the game plan Zhao had decided to pursue. How would he convince Andrew from NeuralNet that had a rival drug to pitch? Andrew was not going to be easy on them. Zhao’s recovery made Chan both hopeful and anxious for the meeting.
Zhao straightened his shoulders and stood up. He was not going to discuss the unanticipated benefits from the drug. Zhao rather enjoyed them and felt it leveled the playing field a little. He placed his hand on Chan’s shoulders in an attempt to re-assure him.
“We will go to the convention and see this to the end.”
The ride over to the Mao Institute gave them more time to discuss the specifications of the drug. The trial results were heartening. Zhao authorized more trials to keep up the defense.
The gathering convened at the conference on time. The sounds of shoulder taps, friendly repartee, and rustling paper resounded in the room.
“It’s great to see you doing well Zhao. I am sorry to hear about your diagnosis but glad to see you.”
Zhao turned to Andrew and replied: “Thank you, yes I am now thanks to Chan.”
Andrew acknowledged and turned away to face the board. He was a senator and senior board member from NeuralNet headquartered in the US. They had launched an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s a year back. It met with a mixed response as the drug was expensive and results inconsistent. Andrew prepared to convince the room that there was no other option. It was that or lose funding for the drug.
Zhao observed the dynamics between Andrew and the other international representatives. He devoted most of the time to study their faces or so it seemed.
Andrew focused on Zhao now and then. In his mind, they could not come up with a drug that could reverse Zhao’s Alzheimer’s within such a short span of time. An alternative drug and trials seemed ludicrous. How on earth was Zhao in the room lucid, present and ready?
Zhao addressed the room “We are happy to announce the completion of trials with a new drug in our provinces. The results show restoration of brain functions for patients with Alzheimer’s. Our aging population is willing to volunteer for these trials. About 75% of the group had a reduction in Amyloid plaque and increased cerebral blood flow. New hope because of Chan and his team.”
Zhao looked over at Andrew and the other members to read their reactions. He had his cue. Before anyone could say anything, he cemented his message.
“Dear members. We now have one more viable option we didn’t have earlier, and it is our duty to see that the drug reaches all who need it. Our proposition is to work with the UN and make the drug available to all. No individual contracts, no intermediaries and no patents.”
Chan stared at Zhao and then the crowd for obvious discomfort, and there was none.
The risky move paid off and culminated in the majority agreeing to vote on the matter with a sense of urgency. Chan could not believe this Volte-face. It was a victory for Zhao and China. China was more than a communist nation dwelling in the draconian past. The drug could have limitless potential.
As servers walked in with lunch, Andrew made his way to Zhao’s table. Zhao scrutinized Andrew’s face and continued to work on his meal.
“You are doing well,” Andrew repeated as a segway into his concerns.
“But I didn’t expect you to bring up this new drug. I thought we were allies. How come the council members did not know about the drug or the trials? Was that deliberate?”
“In my modest view,” Zhao explained “The ratio of representation in the council is not balanced nor are the views of the members. Patents do not help either. I think different, and China feels different. The drug should benefit all, not an exclusive clique.”
“You see Andrew,” Zhao hesitated and said, “I may not be all that well, and I may not recall many things. But your feelings and those of the others prompted me to speak up in the forum.”
Andrew could only think “How could Zhao presume what everyone was thinking?”
Zhao informed Andrew. “You spent time thinking about your drug, your patent and my Alzheimer’s, you think too much and have much to lose. I only had to do one thing — read your mind.”