Microbiologists in Bengal emerge unlikely heroes in COVID-19 time

Welcome to the world of NICED, where samples taken from suspected coronavirus cases are re-examined for confirmation.

Published: 03rd April 2020 09:38 PM  |   Last Updated: 03rd April 2020 09:38 PM   |  A+A-

Kolkata Bridge over Hooghly river wears a deserted look during the nationwide lockdown imposed in the wake of coronavirus pandemic in Kolkata Friday April 3 2020. (Photo | PTI)


KOLKATA: They are working for an average of 13 to14 hours a day.

One of them left his newly married wife home, while another faced ostracism from his hostel authorities.

Welcome to the world of NICED, where samples taken from suspected coronavirus cases are re-examined for confirmation.

An 18-member team of virologists, microbiologists and consultants are working 24/7 at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) in Kolkata -- testing samples, filing reports, and attending hundreds of phone calls from hospitals and even from common people.

Samples examined by one hospital are sent for confirmatory test to this institute, which functions under the department of health research, Union ministry of health and family welfare.

"Earlier we used to get one or two samples a day. Now the workload has increased to a large extent in the last four weeks. Now we get more than 70 samples per day," said Agniva Majumdar, a microbiologist working at NICED.

From receiving a sample to delivering the test report - the entire process takes around 4-5 hours, he said.

"Our team is working round the clock in shifts to ensure that the work is done," Majumdar told PTI over phone.

Apart from processing data, the team also has to coordinate with the state health officials and various hospitals.

"We are receiving around 500 phone calls every day. Hospitals ring up if they need some clarification on our report. Members of the general public also call us. We are answering their queries too as much as possible. We understand they are in distress," Majumdar said.

Asis Kumar Jana, another NICED staff, took only two days off for his wedding in Februray and was back to work to handle the samples that had started pouring in.

"I voluntarily tooWelcome to the world of NICED, where samples taken from suspected coronavirus cases are re-examined for confirmation.k just two days off in February for my wedding as the pressure has started to build up," he said.

Jana said a member of his team recently faced ostracization at a hostel where he stays and was asked by its authorities to go back home.

"Senior scientists of our lab had to get in touch with the hostel authorities and communicated to them that we are not at risk we work in a highly protected atmosphere. Then the matter was resolved," he said.

"Some of our colleagues are staying at the office guest house and inquire about their family's well being over the phone," said Jana.

NICED Director Shanta Dutta was full of praise for her team.

"They are doing a great job and service to mankind," she said.

The vision of the NICED is to perform research and develop strategies for treatment, prevention and control of enteric infections and HIV/AIDS threatening the nation's health.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) decided to establish a Cholera Research Centre here in 1962 to research on the prevention and control of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases.

The ICMR renamed it as National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) in 1979.

The WHO recognized this Institute as "WHO Collaborative Centre for Research and Training on Diarrhoeal Diseases" in 1980.

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