Scientists, society must unite to fight pandemic

Scientists, society must unite to fight pandemic

Representative image. Credit: iStockPhoto

From time immemorial, there have been three ways to fight any disease: Avoid the disease in a person either by vaccination, if available, or by leading a healthy lifestyle; detect the disease early in a person; and, if affected by the disease, treat the person with medical intervention. Covid-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is no exception to this. In the current Covid-19 pandemic, scientists and clinicians around the world have been striving to understand the nature of the virus, and the symptoms it causes in humans. While a lot of ground has been covered in the last 10 months and understanding has begun to emerge, leading to new therapies, diagnostics and vaccines, there is still far more to uncover.

Indian scientists have also made remarkable inroads in this understanding and, moreover, their findings have yielded exciting developments in all the three measures mentioned above. The new diagnostic kits, such as FELUDA developed at the CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, are examples of contributions of Indian scientists. This kit has been approved by DCGI and ICMR has issued an advisory that all government and private labs approved by ICMR for the Covid-19 RT-PCR based testing may use this new test.

Further, the drug Favipiravir, launched in the market by Cipla, has CSIR technology behind it. Similarly, new findings about treating diseases from the age-old traditional knowledge of the Indian system are expected soon. Vaccines are in development in the country and the manner in which the Indian scientists have managed to contribute to all these aspects is exemplary.

However, there is a still more to learn and we are learning each day. There have been many perplexing observations about the pandemic. Why are some people asymptomatic and recover on their own? While we now know that it affects people above the age of 65 worse than those below this age, it is not that people below 65 years are not affected. We know that people with prior conditions, such as diabetes, are worse affected.

It is not true that people without diabetes are safe. Those without co-morbidities cannot feel safe from the virus and the possibility of developing a severe form of the disease. Many people without co-morbidities have lost their lives to Covid-19. This establishes the fact that we know little about the virus and the severity with which it will hit anyone who comes in contact with the virus. The only proven way to control the pandemic across the world is by following some simple precautions.

This is a festive time all across the country, which usually witnesses large gatherings, family reunions and celebrations. However, given the pandemic, 2020 is not a typical year of festivals. Who would have imagined nine months ago that we would live in such times as the present one? This virus has continued to ravage the world and has disrupted every sphere of human activity. With the unlock process going on and more and more activities resuming, it is easy to forget the virus and jump into the festivities and celebrate, as we all love to do.

However, we should not forget the doctors and healthcare workers in India and around the world who have been working relentlessly to ensure that affected individuals get the best care. Their contributions have been most remarkable in reducing the pain and sufferings of people, many of whom have worked day and night.

The festival season is a good time to pay tributes to them. The most befitting way to do so is to make sure that we, as the general public, don’t aggravate the burden on the doctors and healthcare workers. For that, we must not overlook the safety measures we can take to contain the spread of the virus. Here are simple guidelines to follow: Only ‘namaste’, no handshake; maintain distance from others, at least 6-10 feet; avoid crowding; keep homes and rooms as well ventilated as possible; wear masks and wear them correctly; encourage others around you to wear masks; wash hands with soap frequently; use sanitizer when there is no soap and water; detect symptoms of infection early and isolate yourself early; spread the message of unity in fighting the virus.

It will be a fitting tribute to the countless ‘Corona Warriors’ if we truly observe discipline during the festival season and ensure that we do not cause an explosion of the pandemic by our complacency. Scientists and the research community can lead the fight against coronavirus not only through their research but also by amplifying the message of the steps to be taken to control the infection. Every one of us -- from scientists to students to the common man -- can make a difference.

(The writer is Director-General, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and Secretary, Department of Science and Industrial Research)