- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in Health sectors
- GS-3:Challenges to National Security
The country faces three major biological threats:
- Naturally occurring infections in humans, plants, or animals
- India often faces naturally occurring agricultural infestations, such as the recent locust attacks; diseases that affect animals and have not yet infected humans, such as the bird flu outbreak and zoonotic infections that have jumped from animals to humans, such as COVID-19.
- Yet, the country does not have a proper strategy to tackle infections.
- Instead, it follows a reactive approach, convening emergency committees, ad hoc response panels and groups once a disaster has struck.
- Unintentional release of pathogens from laboratories leading to diseases
- The country has so far not reported any case of accidental spilling of pathogens. But there has been illegal cultivation of transgenic crops in different regions.
- This illegal growth of transgenic crops challenges the implementation of guidelines for maintaining safety of biotechnological research.
- This category of risks involves terrorists or other bad actors deliberately misusing biotechnology to create biological weapons that can affect humans, animals or crops.
- India has been similarly fortunate not to experience bioterrorism, so far.
Is India Prepared?
India follows differing approaches to tackle biological threats emerging from both natural and human-made sources. However, there are some glaring gaps in its ability to manage these risks.
- Poor disease-surveillance network in India makes timely detection of outbreaks difficult.
- Inadequate coordination among ministries to prevent zoonotic infections complicates the response.
- Dismal investment in scientific research disincentivises researchers involved in the public health sector, who could help by developing capacities to identify, treat and vaccinate against threatening organism
- Multiplicity of organisations operating under different ministries makes it difficult to ensure the implementation of biosafety guidelines across the country.
- Minimal interventions of experts: Discussions regarding possible threats to national security due to deliberate biological attacks are often limited to closed policy circles with minimal or no intervention of experts from outside the government.
- Poor biosecurity awareness further complicates India’s preparedness towards threats emerging from deliberate sources.
- Need for dedicated Governmental Body: The spread of infectious diseases is a long-term, continually evolving threat and India needs a governmental body prevent and mitigate all three types of biological threats.
- Integration with NDMA: A full-time office of biological threats preparedness and response under the National Disaster Management Authority can be one possible alternative in this regard. This office could become the nodal agency that brings together experts from the various ministries, representatives from the private sector, and professionals from the academic and the scientific communities.
Connecting the dots: