22nd February – Gearing up to fight the next big viral outbreak

India is ill-prepared to deal with the new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that is causing worldwide panic.

Why the concerns are high?

  • The World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Health Security Index finds that no country is adequately prepared.
  • It assesses 195 countries across six categories — prevention, early detection, rapid response, health system quality, standards, and the risk environment. India is ranked 57th.
  • That the country scores around the global average is no comfort, because the global average is a low 40.2 out of 100, and India’s score is 46.5. (For the record, the U.S. is ranked first and China 51st).
  • One of the many dimensions of new pathogens that is getting increased attention is the link with environmental degradation. The interaction between particulate matter from pollution and viral respiratory tract infections has been increasingly noted in epidemiological studies. Many of the highest air pollution readings are being recorded in Indian cities.

What should be our agenda?

The prospect of new outbreaks puts four items on the health agenda in the spotlight that require both immediate and longer-term action: early detection and prevention; better collaboration across health service providers; more investment in health systems, outcomes, and education; and better care of the environment and biodiversity, which directly affects people’s health safety.

What should be done?

  • Each State in India should do regular tests to expose crucial gaps in areas such as adequacy and supply of diagnostic equipment, health facilities, hygienic practices, and prevention and treatment protocols.
  • There is a heightened need for strong supply chains for products that people need during health emergencies to avert panic buying. This is where partnership can come in — partnerships between private and public sectors, and between countries — that can sustain supply chains and bolster the medical capacity of countries struggling to cope.
  • The best defence of all is to invest more, and more efficiently, in health and education to prepare populations and strengthen health services. Health expenditure by the government in India is less than 1.5% of Gross Domestic Product, which is low for a middle-income country. 
  • Nearly two-thirds of known pathogens and three-quarters of newly emerging pathogens are spread from animals to humans. This dangerous trend for disease spillovers from animals to humans can be traced to increased human encroachment on wildlife territory; land-use changes that increase the rate of human-wildlife and wildlife-livestock interactions; and climate change. Therefore, protecting the precious biodiversity should be a priority.

Conclusion –

More outbreaks are likely in the future; the best response is better preparedness.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONThe recent outbreak of coronavirus is a stark reminder for India to be emergency ready in case of such an epidemic. What steps must be taken by India to ensure better preparedness in tackling with such health emergencies?

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