New Delhi: The pandemic has disrupted the Indian economy. India is spending a large amount on vaccination, but the medical fraternity claims that India still has a long way to go when it comes to parting with funds for research in the medical field. As per the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) under the Government of India, the government has allocated Rs 900 crore to DBT for the Covid vaccine development. However, deficiency of funds has slowed down medical research.

The Sunday Guardian spoke to several in the medical fraternity to get a clear picture of the shortcomings in the medical administration in the country.

Dr Abhijit Kumar, Department of Anesthesiology and Intensive care of VMMC and Safdarjung hospital, New Delhi, told this newspaper: “Research in India has always been short of funds despite the potential to do so much. We have good researchers, a huge population and natural resources, but most of the research gets thwarted by finding problems. The government should look at the policies from USA, Japan, and Korea to enable channelization of funds for better research outcomes not only in Covid, but in all fields.”

Professor Kiran Kondabagil, Professor of Biochemistry and Virology at IIT Bombay, said that there was a need to invest in Biosafety level (BSL) facilities.

He said, “We need BSL to culture the virus. Our government has realized the necessity of sophisticated laboratories and advanced infrastructure. Hopefully, we will be there in the next five years.”

According to experts, India also needs to invest on improving its infrastructure Genome laboratories. Dr Mitesh H. Patel, Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, said: “The infrastructure is well-equipped, but to comprehend the present circumstances, we need further advancement in terms of infrastructure and skilled manpower to cope up with the pandemic.”

Also, transportation of samples to “limited genome sequencing labs” is a tough task as of now. “Although exact data is not there, according to INSACOG’s statement, it’s capable of doing up to 25,000 to 28,000 genomic sequencing per day, whereas the recommendations (from the National Centre for Disease Control and INSACOG) are to perform genomic sequencing in 5% of total cases per day. The challenge is still the transportation of samples to limited genomic sequencing laboratories. I believe an official statement from INSACOG will throw a better light on this topic,” Dr Abhijit Kumar said. INSACOG refers to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics.

The variants B.1.617 and B.1.618 are multiplying faster in densely populated regions, but the high transmission and reinfection cannot determine its virulence.

Dr Kumar said, “If we talk about new mutations being dangerous, two factors are to be considered, infectivity and virulence. They have changes in their spike proteins which enable them to form a stronger bond with host cells. Moreover, these variants are less effectively neutralized by antibodies. These two factors are responsible for higher transmissibility and reinfection in patients, but so far, the virulence cannot be commented upon. There are some other mutations (N440K) that are speculated to be more infectious and virulent, but there is no published data on that. Some official statement from INSACOG may be helpful on this topic.”

Professor Kiran Kondabagil, Professor of Biochemistry and Virology, IIT Bombay, said, “These variants are prominent in densely populated areas, but there is a high chance that these variants are not virulent. We probably need to analyse more.”

According to Dr Kumar, vaccination must be ramped up to avoid the third wave. “Wearing masks, hand sanitation and social distancing have been three pillars of prevention of Covid. The government and all forms of media have to promote these things repeatedly to inculcate them for households and everyone must follow those norms without fail, else there will be a huge third wave,” Dr Abhijit Kumar said.

Dr Mitesh H Patel, Associate Professor of Microbiology, Civil Hospital, Ahmedabad, said: “We need to achieve herd immunity through vaccination to eliminate the virus.”

In the context of the soaring demand for an autonomous Indian medical service, he said, “Bureaucracy must take doctors into consideration to understand the ground reality. It will enhance the policymaking decisions.”