Integrated Academic Response to COVID-19 Crisis

There is need for an integrated response from all academicians and researchers to combat the COVID-19 crisis and its far-reaching implications
Representational Pic
Representational Pic

Number of persons affected by COVID-19 hasalready exceeded one million mark and the number of deceased is about to reachone lakh worldwide. Apart from causing huge mortality and morbidity,coronavirus outbreak has tremendous economic, sociological, psychological,educational, cultural, geo-political and humanitarian implications too. At thisvery juncture, scientists, academicians and researchers need to utilize theirexpertise to their fullest and put forth their ideas and solutions towardscountering all such challenges posed by the ongoing crisis particularly inlight of the well-reasoned apprehensions that while the actual crisis may lastfor another few months, the world might take several years to overcome itsoverall implications. We need to exploit several windows of opportunity thatthis crisis has thrown open to us. It should mark a new beginning ofre-oriented exploration and renewed search for solutions to such unforeseendisasters, a new journey leading towards survival and sustainability of mankindon this planet, learning new lessons of pro-active preparedness and capacitybuilding. However not taking any cues from the present crisis shall be markedby not exploiting any windows of opportunity and reverting back to thepre-covid status, continuing with our misdirected goals and misplacedpriorities and doing nothing in anticipation of more such possible ratherimpending disasters in future. This could eventually lead the human racetowards a bigger disaster threatening its very existence and survival on earth.

While our medical, para-medical andhealthcare personnel have been undoubtedly doing a highly commendable, bytaking this pandemic head-on, our philanthropic groups too have been renderingexemplary services like good Samaritans under these tough and testing times. Inaddition to their admirable pre-emptive, promotive, preventive, curative andrehabilitative healthcare services, our medical, para-medical and biomedicalscientists need to join hands and come out with innovative solutions to thepresent crisis besides new knowledge related to the epidemiology, etiology,pathogenesis, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, possible complications,prevention and control of COVID-19. It is also time for our scientists andtechnocrats in particular to chip in from their home quarantines or otherwisewith their well-conceived and well-considered expert opinions about overcomingthe currently compounding crisis. While our biotechnology, immunology,molecular medicine and biochemistry experts can work on new antibodies likemonoclonal antibodies used in cancer or on any new leads for developing a newvaccine; chemical and pharmaceutical scientists can work on new leads and ideasfor developing novel drugs and formulations, make sanitizers and disinfectantsavailable besides educating people on the therapeutic effects and side effectsof available and upcoming treatment modalities.

While botany, bioresources and taxonomyfaculty can inform about the health benefits of local herbs and spices likesaffron that could prove beneficial in countering the COVID threat, onset orcomplications, our biomedical scientists in association with physics and engineeringexperts can do something about innovative and cheaper ventilators, PPEs andtesting kits;  computer scientists can develop algorithms, mobile apps andtools for contact tracing using GPS and other technologies; sociology andpsychology experts can suggest possible physical, social and psychologicalimplications of the pandemic, social distancing and home quarantining followedby measures required to counter them whereas economics and political sciencefaculty can work on economic and political consequences and ramifications ofthe pandemic and suggest ways and means how to handle them.  COVID-19pandemic seems to be more about mathematics and statistics, therefore theseexperts can suggest mathematical modeling of the disease spread and forecastits trajectory statistically. Similarly commerce and management experts candevise strategies for saving our trade, commerce and economy during and afterthe COVID crisis and suggest strategies for better management of the currentpandemic.

Similarly possible role of all otheracademic disciplines too can be outlined. Thus academicians and researchersbelonging to all disciplines can contribute their expert opinions inconfronting this global as well as national emergency. However as a result ofthe ongoing lockdown they can stay connected through virtual, digital andonline platforms and chime in with their ideas in this regard. It is time toput our minds together and emerge out of the ongoing crisis through collectivewisdom and united efforts. Virtual task forces could be constituted by theadministration to work on different facets of the pandemic and evolve solutionsto various problems that have already arisen and are likely to arise in days tocome. Though there is no denying the fact that at individual level manyacademicians and researchers are contributing significantly towardscontainment, suppression and mitigation of COVID-19 besides relief work,rehabilitation, public awareness and resource mobilization, yet there is needfor a stronger integrated, innovative and scholarly response to combat therapidly unfolding crisis and uncertainty.

It is being said that at present exceptChina every other country is behind the curve of the spread of COVID pandemicwhich implies that while countries like USA, Spain, Italy, Iran and Germanymight be peaking on this curve at present, countries like India, Pakistan,middle-east and many African countries might be yet to peak. Around 15-20%asymptomatic carriers of coronavirus pose a grave threat since it is them whoshall decide when the pandemic will peak in any country. Their vigorous testingat a mass scale followed by rigorous contact tracing alone can lead tosuppression of COVID-19. Efforts of all the countries throughout the world atpresent are focused at limiting the spread of pandemic below their maximalhealthcare capacities available since any cross-over beyond the saturationpoint will lead to complete collapse of their healthcare systems which in turnwill lead to utter mayhem. Only workable strategy to achieve that is throughmass containment via lockdown which in turn will lead to flattening of thecurve. However longer the duration of mass containment for flattening the COVIDcurve, deeper and steeper goes down the curve of economic recession making it areally hard choice for the countries. Priorities of many countries like Indiaat present appear to save the human lives even if it means to put theireconomies at a huge risk owing to their limited and below-standard healthcarefacilities. It is exactly here where the expert opinion and creative ideascould be of help in minimizing its impact on the economy and other sectors. Itmay not come to many as a big surprise if India chooses to go for a 49 daylockdown at a stretch rather than allowing a five day or week-long breakbetween two such consecutive periods.

Coronavirus disease outbreak has exposedmany chinks in our armour. It has virtually caught us napping in terms of ourpreparedness to combat a crisis of this magnitude and mange its consequenceswell. We have turned into consumers of knowledge and resources emerging fromrest of the world necessary for tackling its fall-outs. Colleges, universities,health institutions and research centres in India have not come out with anysubstantial new knowledge, guidance, resources, policy papers or blueprints tocounter the economic, sociological, psychological, medical, commercial,humanitarian and health-related challenges posed by the pandemic. We are fullydependent on what outer world feeds into the public domains with very littleadvice commensurate to our local needs and demands. Therefore we need to learnthis bitter lesson from the ongoing crisis and prepare for more such challengesand other possible, similar disasters in the coming decades. COVID-19 mustserve as an eye-opener and awaken us from the deep slumber. It must jolt usenough to do whatever is needed to overcome any such crisis in future. Anintegrated response from all academicians and researchers is therefore a direneed of the hour.

Author teaches at the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir

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