India needs to invest more in public health and should create pan-India capacities to face future pandemics such as Covid-19, said Swati Piramal, vice chairperson, Piramal Group, and public health expert and drug scientist.
“We were better prepared for the second surge of Covid-19 and now need to prepare for a possible third surge. This virus will mutate further and will live with us for at least a couple of years, Further, more viruses will come,” she said in an exclusive interaction with Fortune India.
Noting that only one or two districts out of 700 in India have dedicated epidemiologists who can discern viruses, Piramal said immediate priority should be on training people, not only new students, but health workers and policy-makers as well. The Central and state governments, philanthropists and industry should come together with policy initiatives, investments in drug discovery and treatments, and translate results to the last mile or implementation will be key.
“Preparing for the next pandemic will be the biggest challenge as there is no medical infrastructure in rural areas, especially inaccessible tribal areas. Using digital technologies, engaging local and hyperlocal NGOs we can overcome that to a great extent,” said Piramal, an MBBS doctor who pursued her Masters in Public Health from Harvard University and later became its board member.
Though the Piramal Foundation was in charge of 25 aspirational districts in India to improve health and education, its national reach and scale helped it operate in all the 100 aspirational districts during the Covid-19 surge to reduce deaths. The Foundation is now acting as a coordinator, or catalyst, for CSR activities of a number of companies and philanthropic agencies in backward districts.
More importantly, said Piramal, investments made by the industry in new drug research in the last 20 years are paying off now, since India can develop its own vaccines and new drugs. “Earlier, regulatory processes for new drug research were not ready and Covid-19 made it possible, with governments, regulatory systems and the industry working in tandem globally. If it was sequential development earlier, now we realise we can do many things simultaneously in drug development and have faster outcomes.”