Dheeraj Jandial
Kahi Naaumedhi Ne Bijli Girai, Koi Beej Umeed Ka Boh Raha Hai; Isi Soch Mein Rahta Hai Tu ‘Akbar’, Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai, Yeh Kyun Ho Raha Hai.
On March 17 the Pradhan Mantri Narendra Modi launched a social media campaign seeking technology driven innovative ideas from determined minds to contain spread of Covid-19, saying selected ideas adopted for implementation will be duly rewarded. Urging probing minds to be part of the mission against coronavirus emphasis, was laid on harnessing innovation for a healthier planet.
Exhorting upon the ignited minds to share these suggestions and innovations on the portal @mygovindia, the Pradhan Mantri informed the nation of receiving the inputs from individuals and companies which have developed technologies and innovative solutions, Bioinformatics, datasets, apps for diagnosis, etc that can be leveraged for strengthening the fight against coronavirus.
The major lead was delivered by Indian Railways that suggested idea to convert coaches of some idle trains into isolation wards. Railways offered clean, sanitised and hygienic surroundings for patients to comfortably recover. The move came at a time when the country was recording constant spike in Covid-19 cases and space crunch, and need for isolation centres was felt. Even the Jammu and Kashmir Government is convinced of the idea with the authorities not only endorsing it but requesting the Railways to provide at least 100 beds in coaches in Jammu to augment the isolation facilities.
Ascribing that the conventional standard response to coronavirus disaster is inadequate to handle and there is as such urgent need to strengthen the healthcare system, the Coal India subsidiary, Mahanadi Coalfields entered into a tripartite memorandum of understanding with the government of Odisha and SUM Hospital Management to finance a 500-bedded state-of-the-art Covid Hospital in Bhubaneshwar that is scheduled to become operational in a fortnight. This is expected to be India’s fastest built hospital.
The recent weeks also saw numerous resource and knowledge sharing initiatives that came to fore to tackle the pandemic. A consortium of sixteen top biotechnology labs and research institutes under the Department of Biotechnology, have joined hands to take the fight against coronavirus to the next level. The scientists will be focusing on three aspects- development of antibodies, trial of existing anti-viral drugs approved by Food and Drug Administration and most importantly, genome sequencing. This exceptional response which the country witnessed during the lockdown testified to what Valdimir Lenin quoted, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen”.
The institutional grit to fight the pandemic was supplemented by the individual efforts, when the Mumbai based Virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale led from the front to create India’s first coronavirus testing kit even when she was in the last stage of her pregnancy. Bhosale’s efforts paid the price with her team delivering the testing kit in a record time of six weeks. Bhonsale gave birth to a baby girl just a day before submitting the kit to the authorities for evaluation. “It was like giving birth to two babies”, Bhosale said.
To predict virus transmission, a researcher at the Institute of Information Technology (IIIT-H), Hyderabad has developed a ‘viral spread simulator’ to show various possible scenarios of infection transmission. The study by Vikram Pudi, Professor of Data Sciences and Analytics Centre at IIIT, Hyderabad emphasised on the high hover distance (localised movement within neighbourhood) as a potential cause for spread of virus.
The motivation for developing a low-cost ventilator realised upon Dr Lalit Mohan Saini of the electrical engineering department of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Kurukshtra when the doctors at PGI, Chandigarh shared with him the difficulties due to lack of ventilators. Dr Lait, who worked on the project along with his former students Sorabh Tayagi and Dr Mathew of PGI Chandigarh developed a ventilator costing around Rs 3,500. The machine stands tested by Dr Mathew and is capable of working even in case of electrical disruptions.
The country’s requirement for nearly 2,20,000 ventilators pushed the Indian Railways to develop an economical ventilator, Jeevan, at its Kapurthala Rail Coach Factory. The prototype is now awaiting Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) clearance to go for a mass production. The Indian Railways’ Jeevan-Ventilator shall cost Rs 10,000 without the compressor.
With the number of Covid-19 cases rising in the country, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kanpur and Rorkee too are developing portable ventilators, which will be significantly cheaper than the ones available in the market. Professors at IIT-Kanpur claim that while invasive ventilators are available at around Rs 4 lakh per unit, this ventilator will be made at a cost of Rs 70,000 per unit as all components have been sourced from India only. Similarly, researchers in IIT-Guwhati are developing two robots for being deployed in isolation wards of Covid-19 infected cases. These robots will deliver food, medicines and collect contagious waste to reduce human intervention in isolation wards.
In combating coronavirus pandemic, the R&D wing of Mahindra & Mahindra too is expected to come up with a sophisticated ventilator at just Rs 7500, which otherwise costs up to Rs 10 lakh.
To mitigate the concern of health workers of their being exposed to deadly virus especially in wake of the non-availability of seam sealing tapes for producing the Personal Protective Equipment for health workers, the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) came up with an alternative by developing a ‘Bio-suit’ with self sealing seam to provide them necessary protection. The suit has been subjected to rigorous testing to meet textile parameters as well as protection against synthetic blood.
The concerns of health workers in Hubballi-Dharwad over the quality of personal protective equipment (PPE) were also attended by the researchers from IIT Dharwad, who took upon themselves the task to produce 500 face shields conforming to the standards and guidelines of WHO for use by the doctors attending to Covid-19 patients. The Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences in Hubballi appreciated the face shields designs that act as physical barrier against the respiratory droplets sneezed or coughed out by a patient.
Not to lack behind the DRDO, the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai too developed a low-cost handheld temperature sensor to screen its personnel in view of Covid outbreak. The Infrared Technology based sensor with LED display is said to have an accuracy of 0.02 degrees Celsius.
Ayurveda based on the science of holistic healing is also searching for the remedy to battle this disease. Meanwhile, the AYUSH experts are advocating drinking herbal tea, haldi (turmeric)-milk and lukewarm water with soaked basal leafs to boost immunity for fighting the virus. The theory of ‘super food’ so propagated by Ayurvedic practitioners received shot-in-arm when 93-years old Thomas Abraham of Kerala insisted upon Pazhankanji made of rice gruel and tapioca or jackfruit while confined in isolation ward after testing positive for the virus. Thomas and his wife Mariyamma (88 years old) became oldest survivors, having been fully cured after days of life and death battle against the deadly virus. This case is being cited by the medical community as a ‘miracle cure’.
Even as the nation is fighting a grim battle against Covid, cases galore of the idiosyncrasies and stupidity by the people during these testing times which demand sanctified behaviour. The interesting one is of the Deputy Commissioner of Gurdaspur Mohammad Ishfaq in neighbouring Punjab, who received a wired call at 4:15 AM from a women demanding that curd be sent to her house immediately “as her husband had a hangover”. The Punjab Cabinet Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa too received one such call and that too in the dead of the night from a resident requesting, “Mantri ji, sade ghar noodles khatam hogaye ne, kuch kar deyo please”.
Reports of people continuing to engage in social gathering, be it while beating thaalis in Delhi or curious to roam in streets that too in groups for getting the feel outside is disappointing. What was more shocking was reported instances of civic negligence by the patients running away from quarantine, hiding of travel history and taking delight in rumour mongering, particularly on social media. Let us not forget, “a million people can do right but it requires only a few silly ones to lose the battle”.