BENGALURU: An India-centric global research launched in Bengaluru in 2010 and withdrawn in 2012 for various reasons, could have thrown light on emerging zoonotic diseases and new viruses such as Nipah and novel coronavirus (COVID-19), former director of Institute of Animal Health and Veterinary Biologicals (IAH&VB), Dr Thopsie Gopal, said.“The research would have provided us the basis to understand the new zoonotic diseases that are emerging as pandemic global threats,” he said.
Speaking to The New Indian Express, the former adviser to the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF) said India was chosen for a USAID-supported global programme — PREDICT — in 2010 as part of the One Health Alliance for South Asia (OHASA). “The initiative was taken up when scientists of the ANCF-Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) held a meeting with OHASA to study the emerging infectious (zoonotic) diseases (EIDs) in India, which were being transmitted to humans from wildlife and livestock and vice versa,” he said.
Dr Gopal was taken as the technical adviser for the ambitious PREDICT (India) project.“Western Ghats, North East and the Gangetic plains at the foothills of the Himalayas were identified for the critical research project. As per the directives of the USAID programme, the plan of action was to begin with the Western Ghats and North East. The first objective was to identify the hot spots of EIDs in these regions. Two species of free living animals — bats and rodents — which were at that time being studied globally for the presence of zoonotic diseases were identified for the research,” said the octogenarian researcher.
“It was a mammoth task. We had to identify institutes at the state and national level for the collaborative research for all the investigative purposes. The National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, which already has a national project on disease surveillance was on top of the list. We had to train the staff for collection of samples. Various institutes like the state Department of Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Services, IAH&VB, Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics (NIVEDI), two colleges of the veterinary universities in Bengaluru and Bidar and scientists from different participating states including Tamil Nadu were identified for training,” narrated the scientist.
“PREDICT (India) ran for two years. By 2012 we had collected blood, faecal and urine samples and throat swabs from 300 bats belonging to 11 species in the Western Ghats, rodents from the Kolar Gold Mines and a similar number of bats from North East,” the consultant and technical adviser for animal and wildlife health research said.
In 2012 PREDICT (India) was withdrawn because of the sheer enormity of area, lack of adequate human resource and technological and scientific infrastructure. “We didn’t have specific laboratories to handle the samples of suspected diseases. Getting diagnostic agents was also a huge issue because of national and international protocols. Even to collect samples, we needed to obtain permissions from various government agencies. Co-ordination with multiple stakeholders and expenditure were other concerns,” added Dr Gopal.“We had identified partner institutes, trained a huge number of people under the USAID guidelines and had collected samples from the hot spots but we could not go ahead with the analysis,” he said.