Friday, May 27, 2011

Superbugs can be tackled

By Vinod Varshney 

Superbugs scare everyone as no antibiotic in the world can kill them. Yet, there is no need to be over-scared so long as one can take measures to keep them at bay. In India they have been traced even in drinking water, but they get killed in chlorinated or boiled water provided it is boiled for at least 20 minutes.

Yet there is no reason to be in denial mode as has been displayed by Indian research bodies and the government as superbugs can multiply very fast.  

Originally the controversy related to superbugs in India was more because of the fact that the gene, giving them the invincible power, was given a ‘Delhi’ tag as though the superbugs are found only in Delhi or India. The reality is that this is a global problem. Superbugs have been found in US, China and Japan also.

Superbug controversy has raged again after the recent publication of a report in British magazine Lancet that superbug genes were detected in 2 out of 50 water samples collected from pits and ponds of various parts of Delhi. A year also a study was published in British Medical Journal which said doctors at P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Centre had found the rogue gene in as many as 22 of the 24 isolates collected in just 3 months.

This year’s Lancet report has been questioned on the ground that no Indian scientists were involved in it. It may be recalled in this connection that the earlier report of Dr. Timothy Walsh published in the British Medical Journal was produced in collaboration with Indian researchers. But when the controversy became too embarrassing for the entire medical sector of India and the government, those researchers were branded as anti-India, threatened and show-cause notices were served to a few of them. Who would like to rope in Indian researchers if they are exposed to such a fate after an honest research?

The ruling sentiments in India are that these reports were intended to tarnish the image of India and harm its growing medical tourism business. Therefore everybody asked why Delhi tag has been appended when superbugs have been found in several other countries too. The name of the superbug gene could just have been ‘Metallolatamase-1’ in place of ‘New Delhi Metallolatamase-1’.

But this should not be an alibi to ignore the threat of superbugs. But we to the horror of many Sheila Dixit, the Chief Minister of Delhi discounted the threat. Similar was the attitude of Indian Council of Medical Research which initially even described the British research as unscientific. But lately it has decided to do a nationwide research on this issue and has invited scientists to submit research proposals. The scientists of this apex organisation feel that the problem of super bug may be in all parts the country and at all levels of health care.

The research will also be carried out to study genes of microbes to know the areas which could be targeted by drugs to kill it. This would also help in development of better diagnostics. Research would also focus on developing methods for early diagnosis and detection of resistant strains. 
(The article was published in the May, 2011 issue of Lokayat)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Indian Science Congress-2011

Now is the Time to Revive Nalanda Spirit

Vinod Varshney
  India needs to revive Nalanda Tradition of learning if it again wants to become a scientific power. This is the key message Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate gave during his lecture to hundreds of delegates in the 98th Indian Science Congress being held at SRM University in Chennai. Sen said it was time to recollect the scientific tradition of old Nalanda
  Prof Sen reminded that Nalanda University was destroyed 700 years ago by Afghan conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1193. That was the time when Oxford and Cambridge were taking birth. The oldest European university at Bologna was born when Nalanda had been more than 600 years old. The Al-Azhar University in Cairo, another distinguished university with which Nalanda is often compared, was set up in 970 A.D. -- more than 500 years after Nalanda was founded.
Need to Generate a New Indian Story
  This is an old story of old Indian glory. Any modern Indian today cannot just keep repeating and feeling that we were great in the past. Nalanda culture and spirit should pervade Indian mind. Only time will tell how the effort of five countries – Japan, China, Singapore, Thailand and India – to build new Nalanda would be able to do it.
  While we revive Nalanda, we need to really think of today’s decay, and try to know who are destroying our universities. Most Indians would agree that the true reason of educational decay is our political and business culture which has taken over our educational system.
Indian Science Declined During Last 20 Years
  But government priorities are also to blame. Scientific Advisory Council of the Prime Minister told in a report that the science in India had declined in the past 20 years. It was because of “sub-critical and inadequate investment by the Government and Industry in research.”
  One needs to remember how successive Indian Science Congresses had been during the entire previous decade exhorting Central Government to increase R&D expenditure in terms of percentage of the GDP, but it remains stagnant only at 0.8 percent. Prof KC Pandey the General President of the Indian Science Congress said in his address that “advanced countries spend around 30 per cent of their total Research and Development expenditure in the university sector, while in India it is only six per cent.”
  Prof Pandey wants that the Centre or state governments, in collaboration with the private sector, should establish Special Education Zones primarily dedicated to the development of higher professional educational institutions and R&D centres.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Indian Science Congress 2011

What Ails Indian Science Education ?

Vinod Varshney

The truth of Indian Universities is that much attention is not given on research, which is quite natural in the Indian situation when power and money matter more than knowledge and sincerity. The educational culture is being vitiated fast by mushrooming private universities and colleges, many of which have been opened with the blatant intention of only making money.

No surprise that any conscientious academic would lament that even after 63 years of independence we don’t have even one which can be counted among the top 200 universities of the world. This fact was effectively underscored by Dr K. C. Pandey the General President of the Indian Science Congress in his Presidential speech Tuesday in SRM University of Chennai.

Unluckily his speech would not find sufficient space in the mainstream media, which remains more concerned about reporting what government leaders say.

Beleagured Leader Loses Sheen

The 98th Indian Science Congress was inaugurated Tuesday by Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh, a beleaguered leader amidst his government’s multi-billion dollar 2-G spectrum scam which has taken away much of the sheen from his gentle appeal. One can leave aside most part of his lecture, except one glaring reality “that while C. V. Raman won the Nobel Prize eighty years ago for the Raman Effect, most of the instruments available in India today using this principle are imported.”

Why is it so? Dr Singh has not ant remedy for this. He only mentioned the malady that that was not an isolated example. "Many of our outstanding scientific discoveries had been converted into marketable products by technologists and firms based abroad."

So what is wrong with India? Everybody knows that its political culture is the real problem, which breeds, supports and cover up corruption. The culture of corruption has seeped deep inside the educational institutions also and politicians have been active participants of all this sordid happening. If political culture remains as it is, there is no hope that Indian science education would get any major change.  

What Are the Solutions?

What has been offered as solutions? Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, as is his wont, blared out an agenda, which he thinks can make India a "hot spot of innovation". The agenda will include long term academia-industry collaborative relationships with open access to and resources free of intellectual property entanglements; better integration of corporate with higher educational and research institutions, encourage multidisciplinary collaboration among business, government, academia and R&D, thereby creating an environment that supports technological development. Definitely these are fanciful words which an illustrious lawyer politician can always utter.

It will take genuine strenuous efforts and long time to bring into practice even a few of these things as spelling out an agenda is one thing but to do concrete work is a diffrent ball game which requires real sincerity and sense of commitment.