Hyderabad

‘India a key player in developing vaccines’

Honoured guest:Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Peter Piot being felicitated by the president of Public Health Foundation of India, K. Srinath Reddy, during an event at the Indian Institute of Public Health in the city on Sunday.— Photo: Nagara Gopal

Honoured guest:Director of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Peter Piot being felicitated by the president of Public Health Foundation of India, K. Srinath Reddy, during an event at the Indian Institute of Public Health in the city on Sunday.— Photo: Nagara Gopal  

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Attesting India’s expanding role in fighting epidemics, Peter Piot, the co-discoverer of Ebola virus, said India is a key player in the global initiative to develop vaccines.

Speaking to The Hindu during an interaction with researchers at the India Institute of Public Health in Hyderabad, Prof. Piot said India along with partners, including Norway and other participating agencies in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), will focus on diseases that are part of World Health Organization’s R&D blueprint, which includes, among others, Ebola, MERS, and Chikunguniya.

“India is an equal player and is expected to constitute significantly. Besides, the chair of the board overseeing the initiating being the secretary of department of biotechnology, another Indian is also on board,” said Prof. Piot, who is the vice-chair on the board and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Prof. Piot delivered a lecture on lessons to be learnt from the last Ebola epidemic, where he said Ebola is not a concern for India.

“India has a set of old problems, including malaria and dengue, and new problems in non-communicable diseases like diabetes that have to be tackled,” he said, when asked if India should worry about Ebola. He explained that another Ebola epidemic that began 2014 is unlikely given that the virus spreads only when a healthy person comes in close contact with an infected person.

Prof. Piot narrated the changes from the first epidemic of Ebola, when it was identified, to the last epidemic that began end of 2014. He said he did not anticipate an outbreak of the magnitude witnessed in west Africa, as Ebola was thought to be restricted to central Africa where it was found.

“The probability of Ebola is low in the general population, which is why it is not going to be a major problem. But everything changed in 2014,” he said. “However, the 11,000 deaths may seem too many, there are other conditions that kill a lot more people than this.”

Calling for quick response to epidemics, he said the Ebola outbreak of 2014 badly affected the economies of three countries, two of which had just come out of civil war. Highlighting lessons to be learnt from the epidemic, he said public trust is key and the threat of local outbreaks having global impacts have to be considered. He also warned that an influenza epidemic with catastrophic effects was waiting to happen.

Besides discovering Ebola, Prof. Piot is known for his work on HIV. When asked if growing resistance to first line of HIV treatment in Indian hospitals is a concern, he stressed that treatment should be given only after determining the viral load and a laboratory test to determine which drugs work. During his talk, he said drug resistance, driven largely by abuse of antibiotics in veterinary practise in the western world, can be controlled if health and agriculture wings of the government work together.

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