Chennai

A war room approach is needed, says virologist Jacob John

"We are reacting to what is happening and not proactively changing our tactics,” he said

The country needs a war room where a designated group of persons think only about COVID-19, design strategies for the next week and the next month, renowned virologist Jacob John said.

Dr. John, retired professor of virology from Christian Medical College, Vellore, is of the view that the situation, both in India and worldwide, is “grim”, and that the country was merely reacting to what was happening. “My fear is that within two weeks, every State in the country will have COVID-19 cases. Hospitals will begin to see cases, and many hospitals do not have isolation facilities, respiratory support systems and trained intensive care personnel,” he said.

The situation is grim because of many factors, he said.

“Imagine, we are at war with a country. There will be one war room with designated people watching the battlefield 24 x 7, making assessments, advising tactics and strategies. Now, consider this a war against coronavirus. Where is the war room? Is it at the National Centre for Disease Control or at Indian Council of Medical Research or at Nirman Bhavan? It is the ad hoc reactive decision-making that disappoints me,” he added.

This need not be the case as the country has been well-trained to face various epidemics, he said, adding: “We know how to do it. This one is different from everything we have seen in the past, but it has two or three previous trainers for us – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has trained us, H1N1 pandemic has trained us and HIV/AIDS has trained us. But I do not see any lessons being applied from these experiences we went through. That is why I feel the Indian scene is a bit grim. We are reacting to what is happening and not proactively changing our tactics,” he said.

Tamil Nadu, he said, was probably better prepared because of its strong system of primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare, and the presence of medical colleges in 80% of the districts. Yet, there are areas of concern. “My worry is that have they all been given clear instructions as to what they should do? Are we systematically diagnosing every pneumonia patient — whether it is bacterial pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia or viral pneumonia? Add coronavirus to the list. Is every case of severe pneumonia being diagnosed with the six categories of aetiology? If not, we are in a bit of a problem,” he observed.

What is also needed is a platform to provide authentic information for the public. “In the US, people look for authentic information from Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Today, when I make calls, it says wash hands repeatedly. Is that enough? People want to know if they can travel to places such as Mumbai or Delhi? If there are travel restrictions within a State? Having an official channel, consistently improving on yesterday's instructions today are the things we should be doing,” he said.

“NCDC is our CDC but it has no track record in providing health information to the public. The system is not robust in India to respond to a challenge like this. We need a 24x7 CDC-like platform for authentic information, game plan, response needed to be taken and places in the country where the problem exists. Without that, we are flying blind. We are hoping that things will not turn bad. But things will turn out to be bad,” he said.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 1:23:19 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/a-war-room-approach-is-needed/article31027260.ece

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