In 2018, only the National Institute of Virology, Pune, was authorised to confirm Nipah cases while NIV, Alappuzha, and MCVR had received patient samples from Kerala and confirmed Nipah a day earlier than NIV, Pune.
The government has asked the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stop funding research on the Nipah virus at the Manipal Centre for Virus Research (MCVR), as the facility has a Biosafety Level 2+ (BSL 2+) clearance, while Nipah virus is a Risk Group 4 pathogen, meaning only BSL3 labs are cleared to conduct limited tests and only the three BSL4 labs in the country can conduct advanced studies such as viral isolation. Given how pathogens can be weaponised, the government did well to stop the study, for which MCVR hadn’t received approval; the funding, too, Hindustan Times reports, didn’t have requisite approvals.
However, serious deliberation is needed on one of the reasons for the government wanting to shut down the study—that it could help develop a vaccine, the intellectual property right for which “will not be with India” (as per an unnamed source cited by HT). Also, as per HT, internal government communication talked of the bioterrorism potential of Nipah. Nipah has struck India in 2001 and 2018, and Bangladesh has seenmultiple outbreaks. Yet, there are no reports of India working on a vaccine—it hasn’t developed the research capacity. In 2018, only the National Institute of Virology, Pune, was authorised to confirm Nipah cases while NIV, Alappuzha, and MCVR had received patient samples from Kerala and confirmed Nipah a day earlier than NIV, Pune. There is no doubt an MCVR can’t be allowed to violate biosafety norms, but if the government views all research collaboration with suspicion, it would indeed be unfortunate.