As we navigate the complex landscape of emerging pathogens and potential pandemics, the concept of Disease X looms ominously. The next pathogen with pandemic potential could be lurking among us, hidden in animal hosts or operating in ways that elude detection. To avert the emergence of Disease X or another global health crisis, scientists worldwide are working tirelessly to connect the dots and find solutions.
In this context, India must take proactive measures to safeguard public health and strengthen its readiness for potential health threats.
Here are four key action points that India should promptly address to preempt the emergence of Disease X:
Intensify “One Health Surveillance”:
One Health Surveillance is more than just a buzzword; it’s a critical approach to disease monitoring and prevention. This concept emphasizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health. India should invest in gathering, interpreting, and sharing data on humans, animals, and ecosystems to identify potential threats early. Despite its importance, One Health Surveillance in India often lacks adequate financial support and attention.
Drive Community Engagement:
Community involvement is a cornerstone of effective pandemic response. Kerala’s success in dealing with health emergencies can be attributed in part to strong community involvement. To replicate this success nationwide, India must raise awareness about zoonotic diseases among communities, including schoolchildren. Engaging diverse community health workers and training frontline workers like ASHA workers is essential to create an informed and responsive public capable of addressing health emergencies.
Develop Effective Antivirals:
India, known as the world’s pharmacy, should focus its efforts on developing effective antiviral drugs and monoclonal antibodies. This mission could save countless lives during pandemics. Initiatives like the Scheme for Promotion of Research and Innovation in Pharma-MedTech (PRIP) have the potential to provide financial support to Indian pharma companies for drug development. India’s expertise in vaccine platforms should extend to antiviral drug development, addressing challenges in manufacturing and expanding high-security laboratories.
Expand Genomic Surveillance & Act Swiftly:
India’s genomic surveillance body, INSACOG, should broaden its scope to detect potential pathogens beyond Covid-19. Collaboration between research institutions, government agencies, and state departments is essential to monitor and analyze emerging pathogens at the district level. States like Karnataka are leading the way in identifying potential pathogens and building surveillance programs. Other states should follow suit, adopting successful models and strengthening the country’s overall preparedness.
India’s comprehensive preparations for the next pandemic are commendable, but sustaining momentum and agility are key. By addressing these action points, India can enhance its resilience and readiness in the face of evolving health challenges.