Zika Virus Outbreak

India lacks diagnostic tests for emerging infectious diseases


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: About Zika Virus

Mains level: India’s Lack of Significant Zika Surveillance and Other Diseases

Why in the news?

The detection of a Zika virus infection in Pune has once again raised concerns regarding India’s readiness to diagnose emerging infectious diseases.

Recent Outbreaks in Various Regions of India

  • Zika Virus: Recent cases of Zika virus in Pune and previous outbreaks in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh highlight sporadic but concerning outbreaks across India.
  • Avian Influenza: Ongoing outbreaks affecting poultry, with occasional human cases reported, indicating challenges in surveillance and testing.
  • Nipah Virus: Multiple outbreaks in Kerala and sporadic cases in West Bengal underscore the recurrent nature of Nipah virus outbreaks in India.

India’s Lack of Significant Zika Surveillance and Other Diseases

  • Limited Diagnostic Capabilities: India faces challenges with the absence of approved diagnostic tests for the Zika virus, relying on clinical symptoms and selective testing, which may lead to underreporting.
  • Surveillance Gaps: There is a notable gap in systematic surveillance systems specifically tailored for Zika and other emerging infectious diseases, hampering early detection and containment efforts.
  • Infrastructure Deficiencies: The country’s diagnostic infrastructure outside major institutes is inadequate, affecting the timely identification and response to outbreaks of diseases like Zika, Nipah, and avian influenza.
  • Dependency on Apex Institutes: Diagnostic facilities are largely concentrated in apex national institutes, limiting accessibility and delaying the implementation of crucial public health measures during outbreaks.

Impacts of Unavailability of Infrastructure

  • Delayed Response: Lack of accessible diagnostics delays the identification and isolation of cases, contact tracing, and implementation of containment measures during outbreaks.
  • Loss of Time: Delays in releasing genomic sequences and validating diagnostic tests impede the rapid development and deployment of effective diagnostics.

Way Forward (Role of ICMR)

  • Enhanced Surveillance: ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) should lead efforts to decentralize testing facilities, ensuring availability at district and sub-district levels.
  • Capacity Building: Develop accessible and affordable diagnostic tests for Zika, Nipah, and avian influenza, leveraging lessons from COVID-19 testing infrastructure expansion.
  • Genomic Surveillance: Establish a system for the rapid release of whole genome sequences into public repositories like GISAID to enhance understanding and response capabilities.
  • Collaboration: Foster collaboration with industry and research institutions to streamline diagnostic test approvals and improve preparedness for future outbreaks.

Mains PYQ: 

Q COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented devastation worldwide. However, technological advancements are being availed readily to win over the crisis. Give an account of how technology was sought to aid the management of the pandemic. (UPSC IAS/2020)

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