Covid’s origins and features need to be accurately mapped; reliance on outside agencies may not generate such accuracy.

 

Bengaluru: There is a viable path forward for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to succeed in defeating the Covid-19 pandemic. For this, its origins and features need to be accurately mapped. Reliance on outside agencies may not generate such accuracy. India has the talent needed for success through science.

Forensic science is the application of scientific technology and techniques to help investigations with legal implications. Forensic evidence may be collected either by travelling to the site of the event or in a laboratory, or office by analysis of objects, data connected with the event, and financial trail left by the perpetrators, etc.

Many attempts have been made to suppress investigation of the origin of Covid-19. On-site investigation by the WHO has been a farce. The financial and data trail is already under investigation by the media and government agencies. A way forward for the scientific community is to analyse the evidence already published by various researchers around the world.

The genomic sequence of nucleic acids of HIV, SARS1, SARS2 and various other coronaviruses have been studied and published by many laboratories around the world. All that is required is to compare these genome sequences to prove or disprove if Covid-19 evolved naturally or by genetic manipulation. IIT Delhi and Delhi University researchers pioneered the study of features seemingly unique to the SARS2 (Covid-19). Many leading virologists worldwide have later published similar findings. The unique features causing suspicion are four segments of HIV genome in the SARS2; the code for the Furin cleavage site in the spike protein and the code for 5 Prime Methyl cap. This forensic study is feasible and can be done by any scientist on a computer with publicly available data tools. So what can we do about Covid-19?

The human ACE2 receptor targeted by the spike protein does not mutate like the virus. There is a finite set of variations to the spike protein that will allow it to attach to the human ACE2 receptor. Only a few of these variations will increase its efficiency. Other variations to the spike protein may suit ACE2 receptors of other animals. I have the following suggestion: Produce a “super” polyvalent vaccine that blocks each of the efficient variants of the spike protein. The constituents of this polyvalent vaccine will depend on the prevalent strains. This should take care of mutants. Similar vaccines will have to be developed for domesticated animals.

Further, we should have a permanent setup similar to National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) for handling biological agents of any origin, natural or manmade, against humans, animals or crops. This will need polyvalent vaccines, multivalent antitoxins, broad spectrum drugs, test kits, lifesaving and protective equipment against potential pathogens and toxins that can cause epidemics or can be used for bioterrorism. In some cases counter measures like one pathogen against another pathogen may be feasible. The production facilities should be quickly scalable to global capacity as “No one will ever be truly safe until everyone is safe.” Like we have shelters and facilities for natural disasters, facilities should be planned for disease containment and management like oxygen, essential drug supplies, safe air, water and food. These facilities at relevant locations may be useful in case of a poisonous gas, chemical or nuclear leak. Another necessity is gene repository to preserve our genetic diversity including plant germplasm.

Internationally, there should be an independent organisation carrying out continuous worldwide surveillance (like those for narcotic drugs) of pathogens, mutants and research facilities. It should also facilitate data sharing by all nations since the existing institution for public health, the WHO has failed miserably. A protocol should be instituted to contain an epidemic such as travel restrictions and quarantine. It should include a set of criteria to decide step by step enforcement of increasingly restrictive containment measures. An international investigation agency is required that can investigate any disease outbreak. As prevention is better than cure, deterrents will have to be developed to keep rogue entities in check irrespective of size or power. We are all in it together is the essence of the Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, which means “the world is one family”.

Dr P.S.Venkatesh Rao, MBBS(Vellore), MS(Vellore), DNB, FRCS(Glasg), FACS, FICS, FMAS, FAES, is Consultant Endocrine, Breast & Laparoscopic Surgeon; National Delegate (India) to International Society of Surgery (ISS-SIC); President 2014-15, Indian Association of Endocrine Surgeons; former Professor of Endocrine Surgery; former Faculty CMC (Vellore), AIIMS (New Delhi), UCMS (Delhi), MSRMC (Bengaluru).