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COVID-19: The Challenges Of Tracking The Variants

How does the world keeps track of new variants of COVID-19? What are the challenges? WHO’s Dr Maria Van Kerkhove explains

covid vARIANTS
How does the world keeps a track of new variants of COVID-19? WHO’s Dr Maria Van Kerkhove explains

New Delhi: COVID-19 restrictions have been or are in the process of getting lifted in many countries. In India, the centre has decided to ease the two-year-long restrictions put during the outbreak of the pandemic by March 31, except social distancing and masking.

However, there is still a significant concern that a dangerous new variant could emerge in the world highlighting the reality that COVID-19 pandemic is far from getting over. The most recent variant that has put the world in worry is Omicron, Delta recombinant virus, also being known as Deltacron, which is the hybrid version of delta and omicron, the two variants dominant most recently. However, scientists are still monitoring it and very less is known currently about the new variant.

So, how does the world keep a track of these new variants? What are the challenges faced on ground in tracking these variants? Talking about the same, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead, WHO Health Emergencies Programme said,

It all starts with surveillance, making sure that we have really strong surveillance and testing around the world so we know where the virus is circulating. We know where it is spreading most intensively. And that testing needs to be supported by sequencing. Sequencing has expanded dramatically over the last couple of years, and this really helps us to track how the virus is changing. It’s natural for viruses to change. The more the virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to change. So strong surveillance, strong testing, including strong sequencing is of utmost importance.

Highlighting the challenges that countries face while tracking these new variants, Dr Kerkhove said,

So, what is really difficult right now is as we are in the third year of this pandemic, it’s really important that we maintain and in fact, enhance the surveillance systems that are on the ground. Now, countries are facing many challenges – along with COVID-19, all the countries have to deal with other diseases. And so keeping up with surveillance, keeping up with testing and making sure that we have good tracking of this virus in at risk populations, people who are over the age of 60, people with underlying conditions, immunocompromised patients, to ensure that we are really understanding how the virus is spreading, where the virus is spreading is really critical. And to maintain that on the ground in the third year is quite difficult.

Talking about the variants that WHO is currently tracking, Dr Kerkhove added,

There are five variants of concern that WHO has classified as variants of concern at a global level. The latest one to be identified in that category is Omicron. Currently, WHO is following several sub lineages of Omicron like BA.1 And BA.2, there are other sub lineages that are circulating as well. So we work with experts around the world to look at the characteristics of the variants of concern. Are they more transmissible? We’re also looking at severity and looking at are these variants of concern causing more or less severe disease? Now, we do know that Omicron is less severe compared to Delta, the other variant of concern that was circulating around the world. Along with this, we’re also looking at antivirals, we’re looking at vaccines that remain incredibly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against both of the sub lineages of BA.1 and BA.2.

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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