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BT Mindrush 2021: Future of healthcare post-COVID

Manali     January 22, 2021

Health has become a focus for people around the world at a time when everyone is taking precautions in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic. The ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus has created an unprecedented global crisis with many wondering what its short-term and long-term impact on humans will be. However, a change in the priorities of the policymakers, and the way healthcare systems work and will evolve in the years to come are the big lessons learnt from the current challenge.

Discussing the future of healthcare post-COVID at the Business Today MindRush event on Friday, January 22 , a panel of distinguished experts shared their views on how the present crisis will shape the basics of healthcare in times to come.

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Talking about how the world, particularly India should be handling pandemics and outbreaks of this nature in future, Dr. K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India said, "We do recognise that the pandemics are likely to be recurring threats, indeed we have had zoonotic infections springing up over the last 60 years with great frequency accounting for more than 2/3rds of all new infections and outbreak. Thus, our preparations for the new pandemics must start with ecological balance which prevents deforestation and extensive animal breeding which provides a conveyer belt for forest dwelling viruses and vectors to enter the veterinary habitat and the human population."

"Secondly, we need very effective community-based surveillance systems in the human population. But before that the eco-surveillance which connects surveillance of wildlife to veterinary life and human life, that's going to be very important and that's been a neglected area in the past of infection-disease surveillance. Within the human communities themselves, we need strong community-based surveillance particularly from primary healthcare, so that we can get early alerts for immediate response, then we need to strengthen our health system at every level - primary, secondary, and tertiary care, to anticipate what the healthcare system needs are going to be, right from diagnosis to effective treatment and isolation. We must ensure we have adequate health force, investment, and appropriate use of technology," Dr. Reddy notes.

"Each of these elements must be strengthened along with multi-sectoral coordination between various elements of the government as well as other sectors including the private sector and even in the health sector, bringing about fairly responsible public-private partnership would be an important element," he adds.

Sharing his views, Dr. Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director, Bharat Biotech, said, "There are 40,000 unknown viruses globally. Out of these, 10,000 or 25%, are zoonotic, which means they spread from animals to animals and to humans, or animal to human. Today, what is happening is with the economy growing, deforestation is happening, urbanisation is happening, we are now coming closer to animals. We are now co-habitant with the animals, and animal viruses are crossing each other and viruses are very intelligent."

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"Although they are non-living organisms, they don't live on their own, they need somebody to live on, so they need to mutate, and thus attack human beings. This is only going to increase, what we have seen is only 30-40 viruses are known due to the pandemic now, there are still other 9,800 viruses that are unknown. It is only going to increase now, and the reason why it's going to increase is because the global travel has also increased. For instance, the disease which is there in Thailand will spread to US or Canada in a matter of 12-14 hours of flight time."

Dr. A Velumani, Managing Director, Thyrocare, said, "Ever since it was known in January, I felt India is safe for various reasons. But after one full year, this virus is killing rich people more than poor. The calendar year 2019 did not have any less deaths than 2020. At 1,300 deaths per million, the western world is very desperately looking for vaccines to escape from it."

"In India, we have lost 100 per million. The vaccines are important and today the pressure is on vaccine not because of the virus itself, it is because of the terror that the public has undergone, I am of the opinion that vaccine takes its own time, any process to hasten it has risks attached to it and India can afford to take it a little later, because of the less mortality,"

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Talking about if COVID-19 vaccine can be the template for future vaccine development or even drug development, Dr. Velumani  says, "Some viruses spread fast, kill fast, while others spread fast but don't kill fast, which is what the novel coronavirus is, ever since this virus has come, it has manifested the power of what humans can create for example the PCR testing kit whose price has come down from Rs 1,400 to Rs 140 now. This fire drill is very powerful. We today are better than we were before this fire drill, both in terms of diagnostics as well as treatment. I don't think one more virus will scare us as much as this one has."

Talking about the current controversy that prevails on the issue of vaccination, especially the efficacy, Dr. Reddy said, "Efficacy is judged on multiple ways, one of them is the whole area of studying immunogenicity in animals as well as in human beings, and proceeding to a clinical trial of looking at the amount of severe COVID disease being prevented in people who are immunised. The infection with the virus may not be prevented, but the clinical disease can be prevented in people who are adequately immunised, because the body learns to fight back."

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