Govt Treating Viral Diseases Casually

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Because of pandemic the government claims that the mortality rate has come down as compared to normal period, is wrong

Nandkumar M Kamat

Whatever may be the wish of Goa government the present pandemic would not be over in at least two years because that’s the time the new Coronavirus would remain in the state and show its seasonal presence like the rest six infectious Coronaviruses. It is becoming clear now that the government is just buying time till the next assembly election in January 2021 and has absolutely no practical time bound plan to manage not only Covid-19 but any other prevalent or emerging novel viral diseases.

The Government has also made it a prestige point not to get any of the local Covid-19 strains identified at molecular level for obvious fear of complicating the treatment regimen with new differential knowledge on Viral serotypes. At present there is no transparent knowledge or research-based approach because it is not easy for anyone in the government to learn advanced subjects like virology in eight months. Does anyone in Goa government remember that this tiny state was a pioneer in understanding tropical diseases and it was the failure of politicians after Liberation that the head start which Goa had in tropical zoonotic diseases was squandered?

Not a single government, chief minister, health minister worked to get a regional Virology research centre established here. It became a practice at Goa Medical College to rush to National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune for everything. World famous Goan Microbiologist Dr Indalêncio Froilano De Melo (1887-1955) worked at bacteriological institute, Campal, Panaji from 1914-1945. It was the first such institute in India and Asia. His classical papers on hemo parasitology of Indian birds are still referred. He identified several

new species.

The first leprosarium and TB sanatorium in Asia was founded in Goa. Professor Christina Bastos, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon as part of her project Empire, centers and provinces: the circulation of medical knowledge wrote a beautiful monograph- From India to Brazil, with a microscope and a seat in Parliament: the life and work of Dr Indalêncio Froilano de Melo (History of Science and Technology, 2008, 2: 139-189). Christina wrote- “he became one of the most famous Goan doctors ever; he combined clinical work, research and public health; he taught medicine, attended international conferences, directed medical services and headed the medical school.” And what level Froilano’s beloved state of Goa has fallen now in understanding and managing the viral diseases?

It is a wrong message which the government aims to give- look Covid-19 is not that serious, people with comorbidities were anyway dying every year and the only difference between 2019 and 2020 is that some of them were infected with Covid-19 and died. Another wrong message from the government that has gone all over the world is -see the peculiar Goa model of viral disease management- because of the pandemic the government claims that the mortality rate has come down as compared to normal period. We have not seen such claims from any Indian state or union territory fighting off Covid-19 based on comparative mortality figures. Why didn’t in the same breath the government inform the people that thanks to the lockdowns there were far less road accidents and deaths during April to August?

Would that justify the lockdowns? Would any attempt of the state government to play with mortality figures justify its total failure in understanding and managing viral diseases and planning much ahead beyond the five-year term of the legislative assembly? Leaving aside Covid-19,  how serious is the government of Goa in threat perception, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, management and research on viral diseases?

By flashing out mortality statistics for the eight months period April-August-2019 and 2020 not peer reviewed critically by independent statisticians and biologists what the Government aims to prove? Where is its short term and long term perspective, roadmap for future to manage the prevalent and emerging viral diseases?

The annual reports of Registrar of births and deaths is the only official publication which sheds light on the morbidity and mortality of people of Goa. The reports record at least 1,000 different categories of morbidity resulting into deaths. We have seen from these published records how health officials were allegedly masking and manipulating the Virus related mortality statistics. Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) is caused by KFDV – a RNA bearing flavivirus.

Goa became a new epicentre in South India with 264 cases  in 2016 and three deaths. There is every reason to believe that KFDV related deaths were masked under Arthropod borne encephalitis (ABE) till recent times. The Goa government allegedly masked deaths due to KFDV by smartly classifying these numbers under ill-defined generic term “Arthropod borne encephalitis (ABE)”. In 1989,  27 people died due to the so-called ABE.  This rose to 42 in 1992 and 67 in 1993, 28 in 1994, 58 in 1995, 56 in 1996, 30 in 1997, 40 each in 1998 and 1999. Was the government serious about such viral diseases then? We see no evidence in the 80s and 90s and no evidence in the 21st century too.

Deaths due to tick borne viral Kyasnur Forest Disease were grouped under the general category “Arthropod borne hemorrhagic fever (ABHF)” which was later changed “unspecified viral encephalitis” in 2001. A record number 53 deaths including 36 males and 17 females were reported in 1998 under ABHF. The government needs to tell us what is its overall plan on existing viral diseases in Goa. Hepatitis viruses B and C are found here. Then we have a dominant serotype of Human immunodeficiency virus known as HIV-2. Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) and Dengue (DEN) and Chikungunya are major viruses. But the government doesn’t want to know more about

DEN serotypes.

Japanese Encephalitis virus had impacted Goa in the 1990s but after 2013 the cases reduced. The JEV has also been found in local pigs. From 2013 there had been rising cases of children’s hand, foot and mouth disease caused possibly by a non-poliomyelitis enterovirus known as coxsackievirus A16. What has the government done on that? Respiratory viruses like lentiviruses and Coronaviruses are common in Goa. There are estimated 160 different strains of Common Cold Viruses belonging to three species of Rhinovirus but we don’t know how many of these strains cause local infections because the government is not interested. Swine flu virus H1N1 has established its presence in Goa with more than 100 cases reported last year but the government is not interested in knowing more and this is the present pathetic status of our preparedness to fight viral diseases.