Pandemic not just a public health emergency: Echo Network paper

According to the Echo Network paper, societal inequalities have impacted India’s ability to handle the crisis.   | Photo Credit: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a public health emergency, but has also aggravated societal challenges such as unemployment and hunger, and highlighted the huge inequalities in the country that have impacted the ability to handle the crisis, according to a new white paper.

The paper, ‘India Journey Beyond COVID 19’, was brought out this month by Echo Network, a social innovation partnership between multi-disciplinary organisations steered by the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India. The network includes representatives from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, and World Resources Institute India, among others. The network has its headquarters at C-Camp, University of Agricultural Sciences GKVK campus, Bengaluru.

Need for change

Listing out the challenges before India now, the paper says given the country’s “susceptibility to infectious diseases” and the link between environmental health, preventive health, and disease burden, what is needed is a “one health approach” to simultaneously address the health of humans and wildlife. This will also call for multi-sectoral intervention from decision-makers, implementers and academia, it says. The paper also calls for widespread access to hygiene and sanitation, decentralised and accessible healthcare, and immediate social protection for the urban poor.

Among the recommendations made are activating the Interstate Migrant Workmen’s Act with State registration and contractor responsibility, conducting a skill- and livelihood-mapping exercise, and promoting nature-neutral and climate-responsive agriculture.

Shannon B. Olsson, director of Echo Network and associate professor, NCBS, said the idea behind the network, which was initiated in December 2019, was to try and better embed science in society. “As you can see from the pandemic, science lies at the heart of it. But different stakeholders like industry, governments and scientists often work in isolation to solve problems, rather than together. Through the network, we want to create a platform for these stakeholders to tackle current issues through collective exchange of ideas,” she said.

The paper’s recommendations are a starting point for establishing science-based projects to tackle the challenges raised, and there will be a need for further discussions with lawyers, farmers, doctors and other stakeholders, she said.

The four main takeaways from the paper, put together by economists, lawyers, journalists, public healthcare professionals and others, she explained, are a need for preventive and responsive public health systems, promoting communities with dignity and equity, establishing sustainable livelihoods, and securing human and environmental ecosystems, which are at the heart of everything.

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 10:53:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/pandemic-not-just-a-public-health-emergency-echo-network-paper/article31864010.ece

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