Identify and contain suspects, restrain local spread: VijayRaghavan on Covid-19 strategy
Coronavirus update: It’s too early to say how well repurposing will work. There are some early leads, but outcomes of rigorous tests are yet to come, says K VijayRaghavan, the principal scientific adviser to the government of India and the co-chair of Empowered Committee for Covid-19 Response.Updated: Mar 24, 2020 07:46 IST
India has some early leads on diagnostic test, drug and vaccine development to cope with the Covid-19 crisis, but the outcomes of rigorous tests are yet to come, said K VijayRaghavan, the principal scientific adviser to the government of India and the co-chair of Empowered Committee for Covid-19 Response.
The committee is leading coordination between institutions, scientists and regulatory bodies to fast-track research and development related to the Sars-Cov-2 virus and the illness caused by it, Covid-19. Since it is a rapidly evolving situation, needs are being dynamically mapped to define problems, VijayRaghavan added. Governments, institutions and individuals all have a role to play, he said in an interview to Sanchita Sharma. There is much for all to do. Edited excerpts:
What are the key focus areas of the Empowered Committee for Covid-19 Response?
The goal of the empowered committee is to enable, speedily, all the research that can be taken to implementation. These range from facilitating collaborations than can allow speedy new tests and diagnostics; potential repurposing of drugs already approved for other purposes and testing if they are effective against Sars-CoV-2 ; helping make available protective equipment and other (equipment) needed at hospitals, from the most basic to critical care.
Mobile and internet technologies also need to be enabled to allow use in a variety of ways from tracking contacts to provide advice through chatbots. Much of this is falling in place fast.
What is the quick-fix solution most likely to be? Diagnostics or drugs (repurposing and new regimens)?
Rapid diagnostics are already becoming available. This will allow early detection and distancing (the infected) from the most vulnerable. It’s too early to say how well repurposing will work. There are some early leads, but outcomes of rigorous tests are yet to come.
What is the role of science in India’s Covid-19 response?
Science is at the heart of all decision-making in the Covid-19 response. The leadership of the health ministry and the ICMR are at the control -room. All their decisions are informed by science, and Dr Vinod Paul at Niti Aayog plays a key role. He is one of our top clinical researchers. Then, the telecom and IT ministries provide the analytics and backbone for communication. Our scientists, across all institutions, public and private have pitched in.
What is the level of government involvement? How involved is PM Modi?
As you heard from Dr Balram Bhargava (of ICMR), meetings at the highest level are held every day. Testing resources have been greatly expanded.
How many national research labs are involved in Covid-19-related research? What are the focus areas of research?
All our national labs and the ministry of human resource development institutes are fully involved in all the areas I mentioned above. Their drive and enthusiasm is at the highest level. Our scientists must see where they can maximally contribute as individuals, teams, institutions, and clusters of institutions. Since it is a rapidly evolving situation, needs are being dynamically mapped to define problems dynamically. Local interaction and nimbleness is the key. Research institutions and teams can contribute in the short- , middle-, and long-terms , and individual scientists can contribute by bringing value locally, nationally and globally. There is much for each to do.
When can we expect a global vaccine? Can India produce a vaccine in 18 months? What is the role of the private players in India’s Covid-19 response?
There has been speed in vaccine development. But, even at its fastest, since rigorous safety and efficacy studies are needed, we will be lucky if we can have one deployable in a year. India companies and academia are directly in the game or are collaborating.
You are a co-author for the World Health Organization’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board World at Risk Report 2019. It was prophetic. Do you think the world will be better prepared for the next epidemic?
Global pandemics of this kind have not been frequent, fortunately. In addition, humans have used vaccines effectively against many deadly diseases. Strangely, this can sometimes lull people into complacency as the worst happened to a previous generation.
With a crowded planet, environmental tensions, global connectedness and climate change, we are not decreasing the likelihood of another pandemic. But we will surely emerge from Covid-19 and will, very likely, be stronger, wiser and better prepared.
Is the Covid-19 transmission trend the same in India as in China, Italy and the US?
India is not China, Italy or the US. Extraordinary measures have been taken on a national scale. This will flatten the pandemic. In parallel, our health systems are working to ensure the ability to deal with any bounce-back. At this time, we must fully support our leadership and teams on the frontlines.
What are India’s priorities at this stage of Covid-19 transmission?
Monitor, identify, contain suspects and cases coming from outside, and restrain local spread by a variety of measures, the strongest of which have been declared on Sunday. We have seen implementation on the ground.