Dr T Jacob John is one of prominent medical experts of the country. (Photo Credits: Pediascene)
■ What are the key take-away lessons for India from the Ebola outbreak?
Infectious diseases anywhere are a threat to people everywhere. Previously, Ebola did not spread much but only in healthcare settings through body fluid contacts. The current Ebola epidemics in several African countries seem to spread in the community and travelers can carry the virus far and wide. So India has to be watchful. The take away lesson is that new infectious diseases can appear unannounced and India must gear up to detect and intercept any such events. China has sent experts in handling highly infectious and life-threatening diseases to West Africa. Can India muster even a dozen trained personnel? In short, India has to take such threats seriously and design responses and establish the necessary framework on a permanent basis and not merely on a ad hoc basis as we did with SARS and pandemic influenza.
■ Will India be able to cope with an outbreak of such large magnitude?
I have no confidence that India will be able to cope with any outbreaks of such severity and magnitude. Everything is created twice, once in the mind (for design) and then on the ground (for establishing and sustaining a set-up or system that will be permanent). Who exactly will be in charge of responding to such outbreaks? As of now, there is a lack of clarity on the lines of command. Administrators (bureaucrats) may think they can handle all outbreaks as is the current situation, but they are not competent in this area. States think Central Government will do everything but the track record is uninspiring. Central Government technocrats think health is a State subject and it is State government's job. This unclean and unclear situation must be understood and addressed. The Directorate General of Health Services is ill equipped. The National Center for Disease Control is poorly funded and staffed and spread too thin in the country. Now is the time to think hard and plan for the next decades.
■ With scary viruses daunting the globe, an epidemic threat looms over India. What is India's outbreak management ?