The world is grappling with the emerging crisis of COVID-19 with no specific treatment options currently available. Quarantine procedures and timely detection to restrict the spread of the disease are the only real measures with any government worldwide and India too is following such procedures to respond with speed so as to prevent blowup of the viral infection.
WHO on COVID-19
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Wealth Health Organization (WHO) has developed a database to collect the latest scientific findings and knowledge on COVID-19. Though the WHO is gathering the latest scientific findings and knowledge on coronavirus disease and update the database on a daily basis from searches of bibliographic databases, hand searches, but warns that the entries in the database are exhaustive and new research needs an inclusion regularly. Thus, highlighting gaps in handling global level epidemic information.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools similar to Pharmacovigilance tools are important to collect relevant information on COVID-19 from global sources and undertake content analytics so as to make AI-based preparation and action by WHO.
In order to assimilate various resources and talent, recently, WHO held a two-day global research and innovation forum regarding COVID-19 as per WHO R&D Blueprint. Idea was to urgently collate and share information of health experts from around the world to assess the current level of knowledge about the new COVID-19 disease, identify gaps and work together to accelerate priority research needed to stop this outbreak and preparedness required against any future outbreaks.
India’s need for Partnership
There is an urgent need for a coordinated and proactive R&D for stronger advanced development and manufacturing capabilities, along with regulatory innovations and harmonization of regulatory requirements across the world. A comprehensive policy ecosystem globally is required with a collective end-to-end vision to handle microbiological issues. However, timely initiation of research with adequate funding and setting up a collaborative treatment projects world over is crucial too, since during Ebola outbreak a lack of mechanisms and effective coordination for dedicated mechanisms to build up defences against such aggressive diseases got highlighted.
Outbreaks in recent times of SARS, Ebola and Zika prove that there are gaps that need to be plugged to handle such situations. To address such critical issues, organizations like Norwegian Association called Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) for global alliance financing and coordinating the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases have shaped up. This has emerged since a global consensus exists that new and sustainable partnership is the need of the hour to develop vaccines rapidly along with specialized diagnostics tools required to contain such serious outbreaks.
WHO has identified eleven diseases as public health risks for having epidemic potential (with lack of adequate biomedical measures) and as per CEPI, the minimum average cost for developing one vaccine against each of WHO’s 11 priority epidemic infectious diseases may cost up to $2.8 billion.
India & The US
“It may be mentioned that India has ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and pledges to abide by its obligations. Since the ratification of the BTWC on 15 July 1974, India has sought to improve its capabilities in the biotech field and largely in a peaceful capacity. In 2015, India and the US had signed a new 10-year agreement, which includes provisions to work cooperatively to develop various capabilities like lightweight protective suit effective in chemical and biological hazard environments” explained an expert who wished to remain anonymous.
India has been facing a serious crisis like Nipah virus in past and Coronavirus today. Carving out of an exclusive agreement on epidemic cases during the forthcoming visit of US President Donald Trump by Indian side shall go a long way to establish a valuable and exclusive partner for India to face the future world.
The government needs to meet various public health needs through the acceleration of vaccine R&D processes, without sacrificing scientific rigour or public safety for pathogens with epidemic potential for which the market does not provide adequate incentives. India’s biotechnology industry has seen some rapid expansions but is in need of standardization of the institutions and such facilities for biological materials handling remains a challenge.
The US partnership shall also assist in improved global coordination, ensuring global regulatory optimization and alignment, and strengthen global scientific advice on vaccine development for emerging infections in future too.