Patients affected by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be scored on the level of clinical severity, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan told The Indian Express on Wednesday.
India is also among the 24 affected countries which will be part of the global COVID-19 data platform, which will collect clinical data from all affected countries and is now working on a score for each in terms of clinical severity. “Scoring means from asymptomatic to severe illness and death. The score card is yet to be finalised,” Dr Swaminathan said.
According to WHO, there were 42,708 confirmed cases reported in China and 1,017 people have lost their lives to this virus. Of these, there are 393 cases in 24 countries and one death outside China.
Around 350 scientists were brought together in Geneva from February 11 to 12 to discuss the knowledge gaps and key research priorities in various areas such as epidemiology, animal reservoir and transmission, natural history, efficacy of public health interventions, development of new vaccines and therapeutics (mostly repurposed drugs at this time), Dr Swaminathan said.
“We need the scientific community’s collective knowledge and insight to answer the questions we don’t have the answers to and be better prepared to defeat this outbreak,” WHO officials said, adding that the WHO has activated its R&D Blueprint — a global strategy and preparedness plan during epidemics.
India has set up 106 Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratories towards lab support. From just two nodal laboratories at the helm of affairs for diagnostics during the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) outbreak in 2009-10, the Indian Council of Medical Research has now established 106 VRDLs, of which 14 are strategically located near international airports and have been equipped to provide lab support and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
ICMR Director General Dr Balram Bhargava said that VRDLs at government medical colleges at Ahmedabad and Guwahati were also identified within the network to start testing samples for COVID-19. The ICMR-National Institute of Virology is the apex laboratory in Pune for reconfirmation of any positive samples and quality assurance for testing of samples. The National Centre for Disease Control in New Delhi is also engaged in performing tests for novel coronavirus (nCoV) infections.
A total of 1,725 samples have been tested till February 12. “If there is a need, we can escalate the capacity to 50 more labs,” said Dr Nivedita Gupta, ICMR senior scientist and technical in-charge of the VRDL network. To ensure there is readiness across the country to test a large number of samples in the event of any kind of outbreak, the Department of Health Research had launched a phase-wise expansion of the laboratory network, said Dr R R Gangakhedkar, Head of the ICMR Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases.
The estimated cost in 2013 was Rs 550 crore for a five-year phase-wise expansion programme which now has got extended. While the renewal of the programme is in process, the project cost has gone upto to Rs 700 crore. The sole criteria for setting up the VRDL was that it should be established at a government medical college. Officials said that site visits were conducted to ensure adequate space. “Ninety-seven per cent of our laboratory network is across government medical colleges and barely 3 per cent with ICMR institutions,” Dr Gupta said.
The VRDL is functional even at remote locations such as the Late Sri Baliram Kashyap Memorial Government Medical College in Maoist-affected Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh, ICMR officials said.
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