Update on India’s war against COVID-19 

#GS3 #Science&Technology 

This involves detection, protection, prevention, prescription and, not the least, participation 

  • Since early March, our war against COVID-19 has been making steady progress in India. This has involved detection, protection, prevention, prescription and participation. 
  • Purposefully, private groups, industries, medical fraternity, scientists and technologists have joined hands together with the government in this war, both through financial contributions and participation by involving their R&D expertise.  
  • Government agencies such as DST, DBT (and its BIRAC), SERB, CSIR, ICMR, DMR, MHFW, DRDO, and others have announced several grants focusing on specific aspects related to this war, while the Tata Trust, WIPRO, Mahindra, the Wellcome Trust India Alliance and several multinational pharma companies have come forward in this joint effort. 

Detection, prevention, protection 

  • The first thing is to detect whether a person has been infected by the virus. Since COVID-19 spreads within the moist part of the inner nose and throat, one measures the temperature of the individual around his nose and face, using a thermo-screening device (as used with arriving passengers in airports, or entering buildings and factories).  
  • Better devices of greater speed, detail and accuracy, such as whole-body scanners which depict body temperatures with colour codes on a computer monitor have come about from abroad.  
  • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been offered 1,000 digital thermometers for screening, and 100 full-body scanners. 
  • Once an individual is tested positive this way, it needs to be confirmed by doing a biological test to make sure that it is coronaviral infection.  
  • Once tested positive, the patient has to be isolated and quarantined in appropriate centres. This has been done with remarkable speed and reliability, as mentioned below. 
  • It is vital that we mask ourselves as we move about in streets, since the virus is also airborne. 
  • Another exciting advance towards protection (and prevention of spread) has been the large scale production of incubators, ventilators and devices to monitor the individuals who have been placed in such quarantine centres.  
  • Mahindra has successfully made ventilators in large scale at affordable prices, and DRDO has come up with a special kind of tape in order to make patient protection gowns for clinicians, nurses and paramedics. 

Can India offer drugs? 

  • While the possibility of a preventive vaccine for large scale use in India is at least a year away, we need to turn to molecular and drug-based approaches, in which India has great internal expertise and teams of excellent organic and biological scientists.  
  • Rightly, the government and some drug companies have turned to them to locally prepare and use several drugs (favilavir, remdesavir, avigen and such), and also modify them using well-known methods. 
  •  Indeed, the CSIR has already roped in organic chemists and bioinformatics experts who can predict the 3D structures of proteins, so as to look for potential areas on their surface to which molecules can fit (lock and key approach).  

Despite their full knowledge that millions of people have settled in cities and large towns, as daily wage labourers, far away from their families in villages, State and Central governments did not plan ahead for them, nor did they plan to reimburse their wages during the lockdown which blocked their getting back home. This led to a toss of social distancing and possible community spread. Social distancing is, alas, not in Indian culture, while herd mentality is. This could have been thought of by the social scientist advisors to the governments, and could have been avoided.

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