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Dealing with existing diseases will prepare us better for next pandemic: Soumya Swaminathan

Mar 13,2024

Mumbai: Dealing with existing infectious diseases like tuberculosis and dengue will prepare the country better for tackling the next pandemic or unknown pathogen, said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, former chief scientist of the World Health Organisation, here on Tuesday.

She was speaking after receiving the Yashwantrao Chavan National Award, instituted by the city-based Yashwantrao Chavan Centre. “How do we invest more in science and technology so that we can build platforms and build more tools we need so that when we are faced with an outbreak, we don’t waste any time, we are ready to go with the tools that we already have at our hand….But I think that to prepare for the next pandemic we should deal with the infectious disease we have today,” Swaminathan said.

“Why should we wait for the next new virus?” she asked, noting that diseases like TB, malaria, dengue and chikungunya are still killing a lot of people in India and elsewhere. The COVID-19 pandemic opened our minds to science and technology, she said. “If this knowledge is used to tackle the existing infectious diseases then we will be even stronger to tackle, to deal with something that is unknown, what we call as pathogen X or disease X,” she said.

It would require a national mission, certain goals and targets to be set, investment, partnerships and collaborations, Swaminathan said. India is in the best position to do this as it has all of the above ingredients, only everyone needs to come together and set a goal to make infectious diseases history, she added. “Any infectious disease that has been eliminated has been done through vaccines.

We have conquered smallpox, and polio is on the edge (of disappearing) with a few cases, and in just two countries — Pakistan and Afghanistan…. thanks to vaccines. We can do it, it is not impossible. Some pathogens are easier than others to develop vaccines (for)…It’s not easy to develop vaccines, but with the new insights we have, today it should be possible to do that,” she added.

Swaminathan, the daughter of the father of the Green Revolution in India M S Swaminathan, received the award comprising Rs five lakh and a citation from NCP (SP) chief Sharad Pawar, who is the president of the Chavan Centre.

The annual award is given to individuals or organisations that have made significant contributions to national integration, preservation of constitutional values and advancement of India’s social and economic development. The award selection committee headed by senior nuclear scientist Dr Anil Kakodkar chose Dr Soumya Swaminathan, a paediatrician and clinical researcher renowned for her extensive work on HIV and tuberculosis, for the honour, an official of the centre said.

Source: Healthworld

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