The COVID-19 pandemic has shocked the world economy with millions of people infected globally. There are a growing number of challenges in the COVID world starting with finding a cure and helping the loss of livelihoods to recover. The disease is hurting the most vulnerable sections of society, elderly citizens that have co-morbid conditions or those that live in situations where social distancing is not possible, such as the slums in urban cities.
The silver lining is that scientists are collaborating at the speed of sound and are willing to share their data with other scientists that are perhaps in a faraway country. Universities are providing quick dissemination of Public Health and Science information to their alumni worldwide.
As the pandemic evolves, guidelines continue to change quickly on therapies that were effective, and the medical fraternity is moving rapidly to share their successes with treatments or report treatments that were not working.
Vaccine research is accelerating with scientists working on research and production across the globe. The idea and concept of repurposing drugs, which was not in the regulatory vocabulary before COVID-19, is generating nearly 2000 trials across the globe, where even governments are looking to speed up regulatory oversight and investing in drugs that may work and are affordable.
"The challenges we face today transcend industries and national borders. Business has a unique role to play today, not building back, but building forward towards a more resilient society that can withstand future cataclysms. Businesses can have an oversized impact - through products they produce, global infrastructure, supply chains and reach, employee and customer base and comparative industry know-how." said the World Economic Forum
In Maharashtra, as the pandemic began to make a grievous impact, public health experts, data analysts, philanthropists, and management consultants gathered to form a group called the 'Mahacovid', and like the Manhattan group in New York, advised the government to ramp up testing, and plan 'jumbo' healthcare facilities to make sure there were enough beds for an overwhelmed healthcare system.
Corporate groups banded together to provide millions of meals to feed the hungry or provide ration kits to containment zones where cooked meals could not be delivered. More than 17 million meals were cooked by NGO's such as ISKCON's Annamrita Foundation. Safe drinking water sites run by social enterprises were ramping up clean water disbursement across the nation.
Design teams from universities such as Anant National University were designing massive beds made of easy-to-clean cardboard that could be flat packed - an amazing design innovation. When serological tests like antibody tests were seeming to fail, medical teams called up researchers in Stanford and Milan who answered within a few hours. It turns out that the tests were meant for surveillance and not diagnosis.
Partnerships play a vital and critical role in finding cures for COVID-19. As vaccines get discovered they need massive production facilities and specialised glass vials to fill them. Given that these are in short supply and often production sites are dotted across the globe, collaboration is warranted. For clinical studies, governments are joining the battle with intelligently isolating the repurposed drug from basic studies and using it in a massive number of patients quickly. This unprecedented speed and investment is playing out in nations hit by the virus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has issued a call for scientists to work together to find a cure and has decided to bring speed into a creaking regulatory system that has been painfully slow in trying to find drugs that might effect a cure.
Ramping up Testing must play a critical role in the battle against the pandemic. This requires a collaboration of scientists using methods that are constantly updated to be sensitive and specific to diagnose and treat early.
It is evident that much more investment will be needed to improve healthcare in India - At ~1% of GDP, it is much too low. The private healthcare sector enabled support by providing nearly 75% of the hospital beds.
During a pandemic, the public healthcare structure will be overwhelmed as private healthcare - mainly smaller nursing homes - shut down amidst the lockdown. Health policy will also need to change, in addition to collaboration between governments on testing and capacity building to avert future shocks.
Architects, urban design teams, and municipalities will have to rethink the housing of the future as it is clear that cities cannot support the health of huge numbers of people that migrate from the villages into urban slums. This requires collaboration between economists, urban planners, and policymakers to build jobs that not only keep workers safe but also revive the economy.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that India resides in its villages, and therefore it is of utmost importance to develop them. An example of this today is the transformation of the 115 aspirational districts, the remotest districts of India, identified by PM Modi, and driven by the NITI Aayog, India's foremost think tank.
Developing these Districts as far as healthcare, education, infrastructure, etc. is concerned, can lead to an increase in India's GDP growth by 1-2%, and lead to a balanced development across the country. In the history of mankind, never has there been more need for people with varied training - from doctors, pharmaceutical companies to policymakers, to come together to fight the battle against COVID.
Partnerships and collaborations, especially those through a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model with governments, will indeed play a key role in advancing public health and the economy in this COVID era. This is the most opportune time for all of us to collaborate with each other and support the government in its endeavor to make self-reliance, or 'Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat' a national movement.
(The author is Vice Chairperson, Piramal Group and a Padma Shri Awardee)