Early this year, around February a flawed sense of comfort was sinking in with most people, including some key policy-makers, that India had conquered covid-19. But then, around mid-February, Professor Bhramar Mukherjee was busy tweeting and raising concern over uptick in the viral cases in select regions of the country. As someone who has been studying developments from the very beginning of the coronavirus unfolding in India, she had reasons to worry. Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, she believes it is when we notice the upticks in the virus that we really need to get more vigilant as it is only when we are able to trace the silent footsteps of this insidious virus and intercept it in the early stages that we can really make an impact. A globally renowned expert in mathematical modelling of the virus, she predicted, among other things, that India will see a peaking of cases and deaths this month and that is what India has been seeing in May. Quick to explain that these models are made not because we wait for these to happen but to alert people in advance by creating them on the computer so that advance actions can be taken and the disasters averted.
Taking time out from her busy schedule and speaking to Financial Express Online, she expects a state of containment of the virus across all states by July-August but then cautions that since in absolute numbers, India is still globally highest, we still have a problem on hand even if the caseload is declining. Therefore, post August, it would be foolhardy to start claiming pre-mature victory. Far from it, she says, not only do we need to care about the dealing with the large number of those already infected but also start preparing for the “nth” wave because this is not the last wave and the virus will continue to come in waves and therefore it is crucial that efforts are put in to strengthen the health care infrastructure, ramp up vaccination drive and begin work on the emerging public health challenge of dealing with post-covid challenges of a large population that will be recovering from the virus. A firm believer in the importance of granular data, strong response and data analysis capabilities at the grassroot level at the district level, where technically, every district in India has to have an epidemiologist and a surveillance officer. While she shares the learning from the trends abroad on the handling of covid-19 and its waves, she feels India’s solutions have to be based on India’s context and through investments in health care infrastructure. “If we cannot do testing then fever surveys, syndromic surveillance or sampling of waste water and sewerage water” could be looked at and models evolved to track the virus with the help of the community health workers at the grassroot level. Listen in to this and more that she has to say on how the virus trajectory is unfolding, the challenges of handling data gaps and the policy implications where science needs to inform policy-making with problems locally identified and appropriate solutions devised. Watch the full interview here: