Covid deaths could have been prevented if we had vaccinated 20% population in every country, says Dr Soumya Swaminathan

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Updated: September 12, 2021 1:43 PM

Influenza network of labs is a great example of global collaboration to address respiratory viruses that cause a lot of illness everywhere.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization, Virtual FE Healthcare Summit, innovative Research, pandemicA more public and private collaboration is required as we continue to look for those antiviral medicines which are broad spectrum antivirals that will not only help from Covid but could also help for future pandemics

“Covid related deaths could have been prevented to some extent if we had by now vaccinated 20 % of the population in every country. Over the last several weeks, we have seen many countries across many different regions of the world seeing an increasing surge in cases due to delta variants with hospitalisation and health systems being overwhelmed leading to more deaths,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, World Health Organization on the occasion of second day of Virtual FE Healthcare Summit which began from August 18 and will conclude on August 20, 2021 while delivering her keynote address on the theme “Innovative Research pandemic and beyond. Global perspective, lessons and way forward for India.”

“India is a vaccine manufacturing powerhouse and has enough capacity to manufacture vaccines for its population which is huge and therefore it is time to scale up,” she added

“Besides this, the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines did not happen. If around 3,8 billion vaccine doses could have been distributed in a fair manner, we may not have seen 8000 to 9000 deaths a day that we continue to see today due to pandemic,” she further added

“During the pandemic, the lessons learnt are many but I would like to focus on areas that are related to science, research, innovations, R&D, product development and access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics. The Covid pandemic has highlighted the fact that when health is impacted then everything else suffers. We have seen the economic fallout of Covid because it is an interconnected area where you cannot have few countries and communities to suffer and rest to fare well when there is a global catastrophe,” she said.

She recommended that there are other global challenges ahead of us like climate change and antimicrobial resistance, and action needs to be taken at a global level. Within 48 hours of the whole genome sequencing of the virus being put on a public database base, we had developed the first RT PCR test at our WHO collaborating centres and we had a network of labs in case of the influenza network of labs which has been operational for more than 50 years.

The Influenza network of labs is a great example of global collaboration to address respiratory viruses that cause a lot of illness everywhere. For which there is a vaccine for but it needs to be updated every year based on the new strains of influenza. Unless all the countries agree to share data and pool in the data on influenza and data is circulated, vaccines cannot be updated appropriately.

“On the developments of diagnostics, there was a period when there was initially severe lack of diagnostics and testing facilities. In most countries including the high income countries, many countries were quickly able to ramp up and expand testing including India where labs for testing went from a few labs in 2020 to 3000 labs and indigenous kits were also produced. The lesson learnt is that diagnostics are very important because you need to understand the extent of the problem. This is true for all other diseases and even in cases of non-communicable diseases like for instance blood pressure need to be diagnosed at the right time and at the right place. There is a need to understand the regulatory process on how diagnostics are going to be tested, validated and approved,” she suggested.

A representative pool of sample sets need to be made readily available to diagnostic manufacturers which they can access in the form of a repository which has all the data related to disease and the patient from which it was taken. These kinds of sets can then be used by the diagnostic manufacturers to produce diagnostic kits and improve the production for which there is also a need for cooperation between the public and private sector.

There has been an extraordinary and unprecedented development of over 250 vaccine candidates around the world and many innovative products are being developed in India which is a matter of great pride.

“We still don’t have a very effective antiviral oral medicine which can be taken early on the stage of the Covid on which we need more R&D.  A more public and private collaboration is required as we continue to look for those antiviral medicines which are broad spectrum antivirals that will not only help in Covid treatment but could also help from future pandemics,” Dr Swaminathan explained.

“There are a huge number of trials done across the world and this has resulted in a large number of fragmented small inconclusive trials which has led to more confusion than actually providing the answers. The solution lies in large platform trials like the WHO solidarity trial which has 30 countries and 500 hospitals many of which are in India participating which was able to test some of the repurposed drugs that were thought to have some potential for Covid -19 treatment. We are looking at launching a second solidarity trial which is looking at immunomodulatory drugs for people who are hospitalised with critical illnesses. The other example of a successful trial is the UK Recovery trial conducted at NHS hospital UK where over 30, 000 candidates were given different drugs to prove that the drug is effective and has proven its efficacy,” Dr Swaminathan concluded.

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