Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Don’t waste the wastewater


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: public health surveillance models

Mains level: wastewater surveillance and its benefits, public health surveillance mechanism, challenges and innovative models

What’s the news?

  • A recent study published in The Lancet Global Health has reintroduced wastewater surveillance as a powerful strategy for public health surveillance.

Central idea

  • In 1854, during a cholera outbreak in London, physician John Snow traced the epidemic to a contaminated water pump, highlighting the importance of disease prevention. Today, advancements in public health surveillance present new opportunities to detect outbreaks early. Wastewater surveillance, a cost-effective approach, has gained prominence in tracking diseases like poliovirus and SARS-CoV-2.

What is mean by Wastewater Surveillance?

  • Wastewater surveillance refers to the monitoring and analysis of wastewater samples to gather information about the presence and spread of disease-causing agents, such as viruses or bacteria, within a community.
  • It involves systematically sampling and testing wastewater from various sources, such as sewage systems or wastewater ponds. The samples are then analyzed in designated laboratories to identify specific markers or genetic fragments of pathogens.


Benefits of Wastewater Surveillance

  • Early Outbreak Detection: Wastewater surveillance detects disease-causing agents before clinical cases are reported, enabling prompt response and containment measures.
  • Community-Level Monitoring: Analyzing wastewater samples offers insights into overall community health, aiding in disease trend identification and targeted interventions.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Wastewater surveillance eliminates the need for individual samples, reducing costs associated with collection, testing, and analysis.
  • Complementary to Clinical Data: Wastewater surveillance provides additional information beyond clinical data, capturing asymptomatic cases and enhancing disease prevalence understanding.
  • Early Warning System: Specific genetic markers or pathogen fragments found in wastewater samples can serve as an alert for potential disease outbreaks.
  • Surveillance in Resource-Limited Areas: Wastewater surveillance helps monitor disease occurrence in areas with limited access to healthcare facilities, enabling prioritized resource allocation.
  • Evidence-Based Decision Making: Integrating wastewater surveillance data with other sources informs data-driven decisions for disease control, resource allocation, and targeted interventions.

Challenges in India’s public health surveillance system

  • Uneven Coverage: The public health surveillance system in India does not provide uniform coverage across the country. Rural and remote areas often lack adequate surveillance infrastructure and resources, resulting in limited data collection and monitoring capabilities in these regions.
  • Fragmented and Siloed Efforts: Disease surveillance efforts in India are often fragmented and focused on specific diseases or health conditions. This siloed approach makes it difficult to detect and respond to emerging health threats comprehensively.
  • Inadequate Data Sharing: In India, there are challenges in sharing data between different levels of government and across departments, hindering the seamless flow of information necessary for early detection and response.
  • Limited Diagnostic and Laboratory Capacity: India’s public health laboratory infrastructure and diagnostic capacity need significant improvements. Inadequate resources, outdated equipment, and a shortage of trained personnel can hamper timely and accurate testing.
  • Underreporting and Data Quality Issues: Underreporting of diseases and inconsistent data quality pose significant challenges in India’s public health surveillance system.
  • Limited Use of Advanced Technologies: The adoption of advanced technologies, such as real-time data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, is limited in India’s public health surveillance system.

How India can enhance its epidemiological capabilities?

  • Incorporate Wastewater Surveillance into Reporting: Efforts should be made to incorporate wastewater surveillance data into existing surveillance reporting systems.
  • Integration with Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission: The Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, which aims to create a seamless online platform for healthcare services, offers an opportunity for the integration of wastewater surveillance.
  • Strengthen Public Health Laboratory Networks: Efforts should be made to strengthen public health laboratory networks by incorporating the testing of wastewater samples into surveillance reporting. This can be achieved by providing the necessary resources, equipment, and trained personnel to conduct wastewater testing.
  • Training of Public Health Professionals: Public health professionals should receive training not only in traditional epidemiological methods but also in the management and interpretation of data derived from wastewater surveillance.
  • Data Management and Analysis: Develop robust data management systems to collect, store, and analyze wastewater surveillance data. This may involve creating dedicated databases or integrating wastewater surveillance data into existing surveillance information systems.

Need for Political backing and adequate funding for the successful integration of wastewater surveillance

  • India’s Commitment to Public Health Surveillance: India has already demonstrated its commitment to public health surveillance and resource mobilization. It is essential for political leaders to recognize the potential of wastewater surveillance as an effective tool for disease monitoring and response.
  • Niti Aayog’s Vision: The integration of wastewater surveillance aligns with Niti Aayog’s vision. Political leaders can provide strategic guidance and policy support to ensure the inclusion of wastewater surveillance in the national public health agenda
  • International Platforms and Leadership: India’s leadership at international platforms like the G20 provides an opportunity to elevate the significance of innovative approaches to disease surveillance, including wastewater surveillance. Political leaders can leverage these platforms to advocate for enhanced public health surveillance and secure international commitments and support.
  • Resource Allocation: Adequate funding is essential to implement wastewater surveillance effectively. Political leaders should allocate sufficient resources to build and strengthen laboratory networks, develop wastewater sampling infrastructure, and train public health professionals in data analysis and interpretation.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Political leaders can facilitate partnerships between the public and private sectors to enhance funding for wastewater surveillance.


  • The inclusion of wastewater surveillance in India’s public health infrastructure holds great promise for enhancing disease prevention and control. Through strategic leadership, India has the potential to set a precedent in integrated public health surveillance, creating a model that prioritizes proactive measures, timely response, and a resilient healthcare system.

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