In the last month of last year, in Wuhan city of central China, an unknown variety of viral pneumonia started infecting people. A few weeks later, the World Health Organization and China’s health officials announced the detection of a new type of corona virus and found that the virus was responsible for pneumonia. The transition spread very rapidly, but in an unprecedented manner, and the response it received was equally unprecedented. Two questions immediately arose about this fast spreading epidemic. First, how dangerous is this disease? And second, can it be controlled? The latest figures are telling that it has killed more than three hundred people so far and the number of people infected by it is in thousands. The latest estimate of the death rate due to this disease is two percent, as the number of new cases will come down, this figure may be reduced.
Efforts to control the disease started late, but never before have such efforts been made on a large scale by China. On 23 January, China cut off 12 cities, including Wuhan, from the rest of the country. Health security was made around 5.2 crore people through just one decision. This is perhaps the first example in modern history, when the doors of an entire city have been closed in this way. But by then the virus had spread to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Australia and the United States. In Kerala, India, the first case of corona virus was seen in a student who went to Wuhan University and after this two cases have been reported in Kerala itself. Many countries have imposed full or partial restrictions on people coming from China.
If we see two such diseases spread in this century, then we can understand a lot about the methods of controlling it. In the beginning of this century, the infection of SARS had spread in China, which took nine months to control. Similarly, we can see H1N1 influenza that started in Mexico. While the death rate was 0.1 percent in the case of H1N1, it was 10% in the case of SARS. An important point of the current corona virus is that its infection can spread even when its symptoms are not visible at all in a patient. This makes it even more difficult to control.
The corona virus has a structure similar to a knotted matchstick. It has a fairly large RNA genome, which has a unique strategy to create new viruses like its own. It gives many diseases from birds to mammals and infects the respiratory tract of humans. Last week, The Lancet magazine wrote that China had found its genome structure in 2019 itself. Its genome also suggests that it has recently started infecting humans. Later America and France also studied it.
We do not yet have any vaccine for this virus. But a concrete way of preparing it has been understood. It will be developed much like the SARS vaccine. But its effective vaccine will be developed only when the epidemic is controlled. If the epidemic spreads again in the meantime, this work will accelerate. The spread of this epidemic in the future will depend on three things – climate change, global movement and the third is how fast mutations occur in this virus.
There is much for India to learn from this global health emergency. Only time will tell whether the decision to close the city of Wuhan proved to be effective or just a dictatorship. But if this method proves useful in preventing the infection of dangerous viruses, then there will be a need to create such a framework and capability in India to implement such a strict decision on a large scale if needed. Our municipalities and local bodies are not so resourceful and resourceful to strictly isolate any part of the population to control the epidemic.
We have to develop such large capacities, in which many patients with all facilities can be kept in isolation. For this it will also be necessary that India develops the ability to manufacture vaccines immediately with new technology. The National Center for Disease Control is developing a protocol of preparedness in view of this virus and infection. Samples are sent to the Institute of Virology, Pune, for examination in India. The health network that we have right now can deal with a small number of cases of diseases, but if an infection spreads very quickly in an area, how it will be dealt with is not clear yet.
Although China was initially criticized for the slow response, as soon as the Chinese authorities took up the matter, their work showed considerable momentum. At this time, in a way, China is creating new standards for public health, which will become an essential part of 21st century life. India should learn from this and make big preparations.