By Jyoti Sharma and S.K. Varshney
New Delhi: COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, is making people all over the world go helter-skelter and clueless. As per ‘worldometer’, over one million people have already fallen prey to this virus as of writing this and the numbers are increasing thick and fast. Over 1 lakh people have succumbed to death and still counting. In India, it has affected more than 10,000 people and has witnessed about 60 deaths so far.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has pooled in resources and scientists from across the world in its search for a potential vaccine. India is also playing a big role in this at WHO. In addition, thousands of researchers around the world are offering their expertise, time and help through international platforms such as Crowdfight COVID-19 to fight against COVID-19. Researchers are also connecting through social media apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to provide their services voluntarily.
With no vaccine in sight for at least the next 12-18 months, it seems the fight for rescuing humankind from this deadly virus has only just begun. With no real global consensus on the response mechanism, each nation is left to fend for itself when it comes protecting its own citizens.
India’s quick response
With over 1.3 billion people in Her bosom, the spread of coronavirus in India and India’s response mechanisms are being closely watched over by the rest of the world. Led by the Hon’ble Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, India is battling this virus with all its might. Invoking the Disaster Management Act of 2015, India announced a complete lockdown on 25 March for a period of 21 days. The early announcement of a lockdown, when the infected count was less than 400, was well appreciated by WHO. Setting up of a COVID-19 Task Force and announcement of a series of ‘social distancing’ and other serious measures followed suit. A few such important measures are listed below.
Started tracing contacts of COVID-affected people.
Suspended all existing visas (except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, project visas).
Suspended all internationaland domestic flights, trains and bus services until April 15.
Initiated economic measures targeting the poor so that none goes hungry during this period.
Converted the coaches of Indian Railways as isolation wards.
R&D Institutions Taking Up The Challenge
While India’s pro-active, pre-emptive, and a ‘whole government’ approach to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is happening on one side, the slowdown in trade between India and the rest of the world works as counter-productive on the other side. This slowdown in trade is disrupting the supply chains of many essential commodities needed for the fight. The list of such essential commodities includes COVID-19 testing kits, masks, alcohol-based sanitizers, personal protective equipment (PPEs), dress materials for frontline health workers, ventilators (breathing devices) for patients, etc.
The challenge is to produce these as quickly as possible and in bulk. This situation prompted the Government of India to vigorously activate the ‘Make in India’ Programme, and involved various Research & Development (R&D) institutions of the country.
Under the leadership of Dr Harsha Vardhan, Hon’ble Minister for Health, Science and Technology, and Earth Sciences, a well-coordinated approach has been adopted to activate the scientific community of the country. This approach has helped in providing a common platform for sharing of best practices, collaboration of work, development of need-based innovations, and in avoiding duplication of research work. To cut it short, in such a short period of time, India was able to put thousands of researchers in the country to work round the clock to develop new testing kits, protective equipment, respiratory devices, etc.
India’s apex S&T agency and its efforts
Department of Science and Technology (DST) is India’s apex science and technology (S&T) agency. With the help of institutions under DST and sister ministries, DST is taking the lead in coordinating the effort to map and upscale appropriate technologies in India for addressing a plethora of issues related to COVID-19. It is also scouting for solutions that are more relevant to the country and also to help prepare the country for exigencies arising out of COVID-19 pandemic.
DST through its autonomous institutions and statutory bodies has instituted three ways to fight COVID-19:
extensive mapping of solutions requiring R&D support, startups with viable products requiring facilitation and manufacturing support;
identification of market deployable products requiring seed support; and
support for solutions already in the market but requiring substantial scale-up to augment their manufacturing infrastructure and capabilities.