India needs to dedicate enough resources to this
The roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in many countries has shifted media’s attention from the impact of the disease to the impact of the vaccines—how effective these will be, how long the immunity from them, and whether these will help against emerging strains of the virus. Now, the US’s National Institutes of Health investing $1 billion in investigating ‘long Covid’—this has been reported by Nature—has again brought the focus back on the pathology of this still poorly understood disease. In its investigation of long Covid—marked by sudden onset of diabetes, cardiovascular and pulmonary complications, memory loss, fatigue, and Kawasaki-like syndrome in children detected with SARS CoV-2—the US will track 40,000 individuals across the country and set up a biospecimen bank for the purpose. The objective is to study post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) and understand why some people are more vulnerable than the others.
The Nature report also points out that a study of 177 individuals had thrown up worrying numbers, indicating that one-third were reporting symptoms such as fatigue. The UK has also commissioned similar research, investing 18.5 million pounds. While India, too, had spoken of such a study, anchored at AIIMS, for this to be fruitful, the government will need to significantly raise allocation for health research from the current levels. FM Nirmala Sitharaman allocated Rs 2,663 crore to the department of health research in Budget FY22, 34.4% lower than FY21 revised estimate of Rs 4,062 crore. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, and mankind’s need to understand it better, the government must loosen its purse-strings.