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WHO’s Chief scientist commends India to be able to keep COVID-19 cases very low

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World Health Organisation’s Chief Scientist, Soumya Swaminathan on Monday commended India for keeping the coronavirus cases and deaths very low compared to other countries and said it will play an important role in the development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

She said the whole world has to be prepared for the ongoing transmission of infection for “many many months and for perhaps years to come”.

Swaminathan said it is not just enough to develop and test the vaccine, but it is also crucial to manufacture it, scale-up procurement and get health systems to vaccinate populations.

Speaking on the National Technology Day, Swaminathan said, “I would like to commend and congratulate the minister and colleagues for having contained so far the COVID pandemic in India and having kept both the number of cases and the number of deaths very low compared to other countries.”

All participants, including Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan, addressed the conference online.

“However, we know it is the marathon that we are running. It is not the sprint, and India and in fact the whole world has to be prepared for the ongoing transmission of infection for many many months and for perhaps years to come,” she said.

According to the World Health Organisation, as on Monday, there have been 39,76,043 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 2,77,708 deaths.

In India, the death toll due to COVID-19 stands at 2,206. The number of cases is 67,152 in the country.

Swaminathan, who served as Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said there are many challenges in India in terms of over-population, over-crowding in many of the urban areas, and poor access to healthcare facilities in some of the rural areas.

“This is the time, actually, for us to strengthen public health surveillance, primary health care delivery, and strengthening of the health workforce,” she said.

On vaccine development, Swaminathan said many vaccine candidates are being developed in India, some in partnership with other groups and some on their own.

“India will play an important role in vaccine development. The world cannot have enough vaccines for everyone if India is not part of the process,” she said.

It usually takes 10 years to develop a vaccine, but in the case of Ebola, it was done in five years.

“The aim is to get a (coronavirus) vaccine out in a year or so. Or even less if possible,” she said, adding that the process of developing vaccine will need global collaboration like sharing of knowledge, resources, tools and pooling of ideas to perform clinical trials more effectively.

“I am very optimistic that some of these will be successful,” she said.

She added that the most vulnerable people to whom the vaccines should be first administered must be identified. This includes frontline worker and people with co-morbidities.

Prioritization framework needs to be developed, she added.

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