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Approach:

  1. Introduction
  2. Mention the sources of India’s biological threats.
  3. Mention the issues in India’s preparedness.
  4. Affirm, by saying that India needs a nodal body to deal with bio-threats.

The United Nations Secretary General had remarked, “the Covid-19 pandemic exposes countries’ weaknesses and lack of preparedness and provides a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold”. India is particularly vulnerable to such bioterrorist attacks owing to its size, geography and uneven health system capacity.

Threats : the country risks facing 3 biological threats – (a) naturally occurring infections in humans, plants or animals; (b) diseases that may occur due to an unintentional release of pathogens from laboratories; and (c) rogue actors deliberately misusing biotechnology to create biological weapons affecting India.

India often faces naturally occurring infestations like locust attacks, zoonotic infections, etc. However, the country has not yet reported any case of accidental spilling of pathogens, but there has been illegal cultivation of transgenic crops. India has similarly been fortunate not to experience bioterrorism so far.

India’s preparedness issues: India follows different approaches in tackling bio-threats from both natural and anthropogenic sources. However, there remain some glaring gaps in its ability to manage such risks. Our response to natural outbreaks has exposed the deep fault lines to tackle bio-threats.

  • Poor disease surveillance
  • Inadequate coordination among ministries to prevent infections, complicate response.
  • Dismal investment in scientific research & development.
  • Multiplicity of organizations operating under different ministries makes it difficult to ensure implementation of biosafety guidelines.
  • Regarding potential bioterrorism, India has no dedicated policy that deals with this risk. Discussions regarding threats to national security from bioterrorism are limited to closed policy circles with minimal / no expert intervention from outside.
  • Poor biosecurity awareness among people.

The spread of infectious diseases is a long-term, continually evolving threat and so, India needs a dedicated body to prevent & mitigate all 3 types of biological threats. A nodal body, with preparedness & response mechanism, under the National Disaster Management Authority can be one possible alternative. This body, given the necessary functional autonomy, can crowd in experts from various ministries, private sector representatives and academic-scientific professionals to deliberate and bring out an effective policy framework, which will better equip India to deal with such threats.

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June 8, 2022