February 2, 2021 12:35:27 am
The central government has announced the setting up of four regional institutes of virology, on the lines of Pune-based National Institute of Virology, and nine new level-three biosafety laboratories as part of its efforts to enhance its preparedness for any Covid19-like pandemic in the future.
Welcoming the move, scientists and health experts said it was good to see some attention being given to healthcare, and that the steps taken would help in containing the spread of infectious diseases.
“Health is now a recognisable visible issue and there is an effort to balance prevention and treatment. For instance, strengthening laboratory infrastructure and developing ICUs will be very important as this strengthens the impact for treatment of other chronic diseases,” Dr R R Gangakhedkar, former head of epidemiology at the Indian Council of Medical Research, said.
“At present, the NIV in Pune is the only institution in the country that is capable of providing a well-coordinated medical and public health response to an emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the government did get proposals from states to set up similar centres that can boost research. NIV will be the umbrella institution,” he said.
The government is still to announce where the new regional centres would be located.
Apart from the new virology institutes and BSL-2 laboratory facilities, the budget proposals also include the setting up of a regional research platform for the WHO South-East Asia region, and a National Institution for One Health.
“The National Institution of One Health is of utmost importance as lot of viruses are zoonotic, hence the interphase between the animal kingdom and humans needs to be studied and monitored. This of course should not take away from the fact there are other diseases manifesting in a silent epidemic which require greater attention than they are getting. Creation of human resource to man these …is another issue to be addressed,” Dr M S Chadha, former senior scientist at NIV, told The Indian Express.
Dr L S Shashidhara, professor at Ashoka University, said that regional virology institutes are much needed and he was happy to see them mentioned in this year’s budget.
“The scope of these institutes should be extended to study all zoonotic pathogens. Climate change, environmental degradation and increased human-wildlife contacts may change the pathogen dynamics among insect vectors and small mammals such as rodents. Environmental impact of all infrastructural projects should keep these factors in mind. Proposed new institute should focus on all such issues and advise the policy and law makers,” said Dr Shashidhara.
Dr Prashant Dhakhephalkar, Director of Agharkar Research Institute, told The Indian Express that setting up virology institutes was required to reduce the burden on NIV.
“Such research infrastructure for the detection of viruses and the development of antiviral vaccines will help efficiently counter the threats of viral pandemics/ epidemics in the future. At present, there are only a few research institutes in India which possess such capability. The government has now underscored its priority and willingness to invest heavily towards a healthy India. The finance minister has also increased the budget allocation to DST, DBT, and DSIR, which is also a welcome step for post-Covid India,” he said.
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