The United States has announced a total of USD$122,475,000 has been committed to provide additional funding for Indian medical research institutions to prevent avoidable epidemics.
The funding, provided by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been allocated to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), National Institute of Virology (NIV) and National Institute of Epidemiology (NIE).
Prominent among the issues aiming to be addressed by the research grant are the detection and controlling of zoonotic disease outbreaks through a ‘one health’ approach; evaluating vaccine safety monitoring systems; capacitating the public health workforce in field epidemiology and outbreak response; and combating antimicrobial resistance, a media release has said.
The CDC has noted that the ICMR in particular is in an ideal position for the research due to its establishment and intention of being an apex body for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research in India.
Dr Bharam Bhargava, director-general of the ICMR, issued a call for more research funding during a keynote address at the 37th Foundation Day celebrations of the Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) in the Uttar Pradesh state capital Lucknow in 2020. “Investments in medical research and disease prevention are the need of the hour,” he said.
India’s research output has been noted as requiring more funding for some time. A perspective article published in Perspectives in Clinical Research in 2019 said “Sadly, in India, medical research is woefully neglected. A study analysing research output from 579 Indian medical institutions and hospitals between 2005 and 2014 reported that only 25 (4.3%) of the institutions produced more than 100 papers a year compared to the annual research output of 4600 papers from the Massachusetts General Hospital and 3700 from the Mayo Clinic.”
Zoonotic conditions – or diseases that originate in animals and have the potential to spread to humans – are on the rise globally according to one study. “Of 1407 human pathogens, 816 were zoonotic…These include 538 bacteria and rickettsia, 317 fungi, 208 viruses, 287 helminths, and 57 protozoa.” Diseases such as COVID-19 have shown the devastating effect zoonoses can have across the globe.
India, with its considerable degree of geographic diversity, also has its share of diverse zoonotic conditions. As such, it is in a prime position for research, and, potentially, paving the way to prevention techniques that could stop another pandemic in its tracks before it reaches the same level of impact that occurred with COVID-19. However, in order to undertake such research, funding is vital.