1. Sloth bear falls into well, drowns after being darted during rescue mission
Tragic incident: The sloth bear which drowned after falling into a well at Vellanad in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday.
A sloth bear that fell into a well on a private property at Vellanad in the district drowned on Thursday morning.
The sloth bear, protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, had been darted around 9 a.m. However, it slipped from the net that had been lowered as a safety measure, fell into the water and drowned.
It was around 1.30 a.m. on Thursday that the Forest department received information that the bear had fallen into the well, presumably while trying to catch fowl. Around 5 a.m., Thiruvananthapuram DFO K.I. Pradeep Kumar visited the spot and conducted an assessment.
It was felt that leaving the animal in the well for long would endanger its life. However, bringing it out without darting was risky since the area was inhabited and more than 10 km away from the forest. As a last resort, it was decided to dart the bear, the DFO said.
The first attempt to dart the animal was unsuccessful but the second yielded the desired result. However, the bear that had been trying to clamber the walls of the well in order to come out slipped into the water when the net underneath it tilted, the DFO said. As the dart started taking effect, the animal went inside the water that was deep. Though attempts were made to reach it, these proved futile.
Minister for Forest A.K. Saseendran has announced a probe into the incident. The People for Animals has decided to move court against the death of the bear.
2. PSLV-C55 mission: ISRO to carry out in-orbit scientific experiments using spent PS4
The PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM) is part of the PSLV-C55 mission.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is scheduled to launch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C55 (PSLV-C55) mission on April 22, will carry out in-orbit scientific experiments by using the spent PS4 (fourth and final stage of PSLV) as an orbital platform. The PSLV-C55 will have Singapore’s TeLEOS-2 as primary satellite and Lumelite-4 as a co-passenger satellite.
The PSLV-C55 mission has the PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM), where the spent PS4 of the launch vehicle would be utilised as an orbital platform to carry out scientific experiments through non-separating payloads.
This is the third time that PS4 will be used after satellite separation as a platform for experiments. According to the space agency, the POEM has seven experimental non-separable payloads. The PSLV-C55 mission is a dedicated commercial mission. The TeLEOS-2 and Lumelite-4 satellites are intended to be launched into an eastward low inclination orbit.
The ISRO said that the TeLEOS-2 satellite is developed under a partnership between DSTA (representing the Government of Singapore) and ST Engineering. Once deployed and operational, it will be used to support the satellite imagery requirements of various agencies within the Government of Singapore.
The TeLEOS-2 will be able to provide all-weather day and night coverage, and be capable of imaging at 1m full-polarimetric resolution.
3. Numbers game
Create economic opportunities to reap India’s demographic dividend
The latest State of World Population Report, an authoritative analysis by the UN, has officially stamped what has been known for a while: that India will become the most populous country in mid-2023, surpassing China’s 142.5 crore by about 3 million. These estimates are based on official country data as well as extrapolating birth, mortality and international migration trends. India has had a vacillating relationship with the size of its population. In the ‘socialist’ era, the growing population was a convenient excuse to explain India’s poverty and the state’s inability to improve average standards of living. These seeded deranged ‘sterilisation’ programmes that violently compromised dignity and freedom. Globalisation and the opening up of the economy in the 1990s saw India as a vast, untapped market, with ‘fortunes at the bottom of the pyramid’ that framed population as an advantage. India’s large working age population — or the demographic dividend — relative to the developed countries, where the workforce was ageing, has provided labour-wage arbitrage and valuable economic opportunities. Indian numbers are behind the skilled and unskilled labour that power workforces in West Asia and Africa, undergird business process outsourcing projects from developed European countries and the United States, and are increasingly a significant component of university enrolment abroad.
This relative prosperity, though unable to solve India’s crisis of economic inequality, has, however, busted the myth of forced sterilisation and legal limits on family sizes being key to population control. Despite overtaking China, India’s population growth is slowing. The National Family Health Survey reported in 2021 that the total fertility rate had, for the first time, dipped to below the replacement level of 2.1. India’s population is forecast to grow from its current 1.4 billion to 1.67 billion in 2050 before settling at 1.53 billion in 2100, with the peak at 1.7 billion sometime in 2064, according to UN estimates. While the pendulum of opinion regarding population has swung from ‘disadvantage’ to ‘advantage’ in national discourse, it is relevant to analyse the question while factoring in newer developments. Earlier population debates did not account for the climate crisis and the fact that many migrants, after years of skilled and unskilled labour abroad, were becoming permanent immigrants: over 16 lakh Indians have renounced citizenship since 2011, including 2,25,620 people in 2022, the highest during the period, the External Affairs Minister told Parliament in February. Economic opportunity, more than national pride, shapes the working population’s aspiration and, in its absence, a naturally decelerating population will be of limited advantage.
4. A new edge to the fight against tuberculosis
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan is the former Chief Scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO), and currently leads the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
Innovation lies at the core of ending tuberculosis — India can lead the way
At the One World TB Summit in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on March 24, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi instilled fresh energy to the global tuberculosis (TB) elimination response and reiterated India’s commitment to spearhead this effort. Mr. Modi further emphasised the importance of innovation and the need to “find new ways and formulate new strategies” to achieve the desired outcomes. The Prime Minister’s remarks are critical as we look to redefine India’s and the world’s TB elimination response — with innovation and research being central drivers of change.
Lessons from the COVID-19 response
The COVID-19 pandemic provides a good reflection point — even with innumerable challenges, countries were able to counter COVID-19 by drawing upon the innate human spirit to adapt, learn, experiment, and innovate. The pandemic has shown us that together, we can overcome unprecedented adversity. And if we could do it to overcome COVID-19, we can, and must certainly, do it to end TB.
Over the last few years, India has made significant progress in its efforts to end TB. India’s National TB Elimination Programme, or the NTEP (previously known as the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Programme, or RNTCP), has introduced several measures to find, notify and treat TB cases, with case notifications rising from 15.6 lakh in 2014 to over 24 lakh in 2022. This reflects the programme’s expanded reach and improved detection measures.
Further, novel approaches including engagement with the private sector, launch of social support provisions and introduction of diagnostic tools and new drug regimens, have improved TB management. However, while these efforts have been commendable, lack of widespread awareness about the disease and lack of access to quality care continue to be a challenge. The recent National TB Prevalence Survey (in India) found that 64% of people with infectious TB did not seek care. As a result, national-level estimates suggest that for every person notified with TB, we miss detecting almost two more cases.
To address this challenge and truly bring transformative change in our TB response efforts, we will need to introduce disruptive approaches and new tools to change the way we prevent, diagnose, and treat TB. India has long recognised the importance of investing in health research and development, especially in recent years. The Mission COVID Suraksha programme to develop vaccines was a good example of a public-private partnership, with clear goals and outcomes. The huge number of diagnostic tests developed and a variety of different vaccine platforms show that our manufacturing sector is robust and can scale rapidly.
It is also heartening to see the establishment of centres of excellence, which will facilitate collaboration between Indian Council of Medical Research laboratories and the private sector. It is possible, therefore, to strengthen and expand research and development efforts for TB, to develop new tools that will help India (and other developing countries) meet the End TB targets.
Prioritise TB vaccine trials
First, for any infectious disease, a vaccine is what makes elimination possible. We do have the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine for TB, but it does not adequately protect adolescents and adults who are at the highest risk for developing and spreading TB. While COVID-19 vaccines were developed within a year, we must prioritise and pick up the pace to find an effective TB vaccine. There are currently over 15 TB vaccine candidates in the pipeline; we must ensure that their clinical trials are prioritised to assess their efficacy in various community settings and for different target groups.
Second, testing for, and diagnosing TB needs to become more accessible and affordable so much so that each person with suggestive symptoms or frontline worker can test and get results within minutes, at minimal costs. Point-of-Care Tests (POCTs), such as home-based tests for COVID, allowed decentralised, rapid and low-cost diagnostics to provide results within minutes. New innovations such as nasal and tongue swab-based tests for TB can be a game changer by reducing diagnostic delays. Further, handheld digital x-ray machines (with artificial intelligence-based software) can now be taken to villages and urban settlements to screen large numbers of high risk individuals, safely and conveniently.
Third, the development and introduction of new therapeutic molecules can play a crucial role in the long run. While we continue to invest in drug discovery, we must also scale up newer and more effective regimens and also dip into our armoury to re-purpose existing drugs for TB. Shorter, safer, and more effective regimens do exist and include the 1HP regimen for latent TB infections, the four-month regimen (HPZM) for drug-susceptible TB, and the six-month regimen (BPaL/M) for drug-resistant TB. The evidence on these regimens is clear; timelines for scale-up, however, have been too long.
Appropriate policy frameworks
Finally, part of the process of strengthening the innovation ecosystem also involves creating regulatory and policy frameworks that smoothen the rollout of proven tools to reach people with as little delay as possible. This requires greater collaboration: not just between policymakers, scientists, product developers and clinical researchers across the country and even across regions, but potentially even between governments. Harmonisation of standards and regulatory processes between countries can enable mutual recognition of evidence-based standards and licences and save critical time towards rollout.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved India’s apt title: pharmacy of the world. Our scientific ingenuity during the pandemic has cemented our position as pioneers in innovation in the life sciences. In this spirit, we must create a strong platform that channelises investments in research to bring in a paradigm shift at every stage of the TB care cascade — prevention, testing, and treatment. With its G-20 presidency, India has another historical opportunity to build a global health architecture that creates equitable access for all. Let us use this opportunity to call for the collaborative development of transformational tools and approaches that cater to not only our own needs but also that of the under-represented but disproportionately affected developing world. TB should no longer be the leading infectious disease killer globally, in the 21st century, and India can lead the way.