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India has allocated over Rs 200 cr for new Covid-19 projects: Science secretary




A file photo of Department of Science and Technology secretary Ashutosh Sharma. | Photo: Commons
A file photo of Department of Science and Technology secretary Ashutosh Sharma. | Photo: Commons

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New Delhi: Funds of over Rs 200 crore have been allocated to scientific institutions, industries and startups to develop innovative solutions that can help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic, Department of Science and Technology (DST) secretary Ashutosh Sharma has said.

In a telephonic interview to ThePrint late Tuesday, Sharma said more funds will be allocated in due course as and when new proposals get approved in the fiscal year.

“Since we made the calls, we have received about 500 different project proposals… Right now we have put in over Rs 200 crore (into Covid-19 projects). We will continue to fund more research depending on how many good projects we get,” he added.

Sharma’s comments come days after the DST issued several calls inviting researchers to develop technologies that can help manage the disease.

Due to the urgent need of these technologies, the DST has fast-tracked the approval process of proposals dealing with coronavirus. Last week, the DST’s Science and Engineering Board (SERB) announced funding for the first five projects, even as officials continue to consider and approve project proposals on a rolling basis. Usually the DST takes at least six months to select projects for funding.

“Also remember, to initiate a project we do not need all the money up front – more funds will get sanctioned as the project progresses,” he said.

The DST is looking at funding projects under different categories. The first focuses on R&D, being sanctioned through SERB. The next is for commercial indigenous technology, via the Technology Development Board. The third is for supporting startups that are close to the final product or technology, through the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board.

“We are not just funding research. We are also funding startups and manufacturing activities for companies. At this moment we are not giving priority to long term research. We are focussing more on development – that is translating research into product or technology,” Sharma said.

He added that once the immediate crisis blows over, the DST will start looking at long term research on the subject.

Also read: Is coronavirus mutating in India? If yes, how? CSIR starts genetic sequencing to find out

Addressing potential need for ventilators

Ashutosh Sharma said there are specific areas of research and development that the DST is giving immediate attention to.

One is the need for ventilators. Existing ventilators can cost up to Rs 6 lakh, but some of the new designs being developed can bring the cost down to Rs 7,000, Sharma said. “There is a huge segment for patient care which does not require ‘pukka’ ventilators or ICU kind of support,” Sharma explained.

“About 14 per cent of those affected worldwide need some amount of respiratory support. But only four per cent need the ICU support. The remaining 10 per cent can use some other type of technology,” he said

“These are a different class of ventilators – for which there are about half a dozen good designs now – many of whom have made manufacturing plans with the industry,” he added.

Developing long-lasting antiviral coatings

The DST secretary also pointed out that there is a huge requirement for long-lasting antiviral surface coatings.

“There is a special call for proposals from the DST just pertaining to that, because a lot of transmission of the virus is happening through surfaces – such as fabrics, wood and metal,” he said.

Computing mission helping identify drugs

Infrastructure developed through the Ministry of Science and Technologies Supercomputing mission and Artificial Intelligence mission are being used to find good combinations of drugs that have the potential to treat Covid-19, Ashutosh Sharma said.

The SERB is actively considering some repurposed drug trials, and a decision is likely to be taken in the next ten days, he added.

“We are trying to address the problem through different verticals of technology. We are focussing on innovations based on the speed, reach, simplicity, cost effectiveness, and ease of maintenance,” Sharma said.

Also read: Trial assessing anti-clotting drug to algorithm guiding PPE use — latest on Covid-19 research


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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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