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Covid-19: What India Should Do Next | Analysis – analysis


The decisive action taken by the Indian leadership to flatten the coronavirus disease curve (Covid-19) is commendable. By choosing between the proverbial kuan (good and khai (abyss), one takes measures to avoid the most catastrophic scenario. With the Prime Minister announcing the extension of the blockade, the valuable time that has been purchased must now be used to prepare. But for what? A defensive or offensive war? The first will be fought by socio-political measures such as the blockade and care for the vulnerable; the latter will be fought by science and technology.

When doctor Harvey Fineberg recently spoke about 10 weeks to crush the curve in the United States, he outlined six key steps. With slight modifications, these are the following: One, establish a clear command system. Two, test extensively. Three, protect health workers with the proper equipment and equip hospitals for increased demand. Four, determine and track who is infected, likely to be infected, exposed, unexposed, or recovered. Five, inspire and mobilize the public. And last but not least, learn from research to continually improve. These principles apply equally to India, but the relative difficulties of each step are very different.

For India, the command system is clear and active, the public is engaged, but the evidence is low, the determination of the five classes (from step four) is not yet clear, and the supply chains for protective gear and equipment Hospital garments are thin and frayed.

The sixth step, the investigation, has to face not only these defensive challenges, but also launch a total offensive against the enemy. We must innovate at every step, use our legendary “play“As a provisional defensive measure, while our main research institutions work to provide new weapons in this fight.

While the challenges are severe, the unified response from the government, industry and academia in this time of crisis has been encouraging. For example, to test extensively, we need diagnostic kits. As global supplies of kits and their components begin to become scarce, Indian industry and startups, with the support of the academy, are developing indigenous alternatives. Medical researchers, epidemiologists, molecular biologists, and technocrats are formulating joint strategies for minimal testing for maximum vision.

Applications like Aarogya Setu leverage digital and telecommunications infrastructure and technological talent to complement community testing and provide virtual intelligence. Previous investment in high-quality basic research is also paying off. The recent development of futuristic alternatives such as a paper strip test based on regularly cross-linked grouped short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), which can eliminate the need for expensive and scarce real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, emerged years of background work. .

While problems continue to quickly bring new technology to the market, for example, it is difficult to find sufficient quantities of the input materials for the CRISPR test, a strong combination of academia and industry is working hard to overcome the obstacles. Meanwhile, numerous research laboratories across the country are using their infrastructure to improve national reverse transcription (RT) -PCR testing capabilities. Young companies funded by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and industry programs from the Department of Biotechnology are presenting simple and affordable indigenous diagnostic systems that can be used by local centers without advanced infrastructure. Together, they form a viable plan to expand the test network and effectively determine local and personal risks.

Similarly, the challenges of acquiring in newer personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds, oxygen, ventilators, and antiviral drugs must be solved by focused science. Towards this, Indian research organizations are using intersectoral strengths to create the necessary pipeline of products. When the production of biohazard suits was limited by the unavailability of seam sealing tape, the Defense Research and Development Organization replaced a sealant glue for underwater applications, ensuring that these suits can be produced in large quantities, forming a strong line of defense for frontline health workers. . A CSIR Venture Center indigenous oxygen concentrator can make the difference between life and death for hypoxic patients, if the central oxygen supply is short.

CSIR labs are synthesizing life-saving drugs, with promise in treatment with Covid-19, in collaboration with large pharmaceutical companies. Inspiration from traditional medical systems is guiding the ministry of Ayush’s efforts. The idea is not to blindly copy anyone, but to take the best of what is available and, using universally recognized scientific principles, modify it to local contexts and needs. We have bought time to prepare and we have the scientific capacity to deliver. This war will be won by intelligent data-based defense coupled with strategic attack.

While the medical side defends with what they have, the research side must support them with what they need. Importantly, we must not take our eyes off the real solution: effective treatment and vaccines; developed in India for the world. We have the leadership to inspire and mobilize the public. Can science guide decisions to shape the public health response and restart the economy? If we do this well, we will not only save hundreds of thousands of Indians pain, but we will also contribute to the global good and emerge a stronger nation.

Anurag Agrawal is a medical scientist and director of the CSIR Institute for Genomics and Integrative Biology.

The opinions expressed are personal.

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