Study: Long-term exposure to PM 2.5 may raise COVID-19 death risk by 20 times

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and technology

Prelims: PM 2.5 and its relation with COVID-19

What’s the News?

A new study by Harvard University researchers concludes that long-term average exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) increases the risk of COVID-19 death by 20 times — a potential cause for alarm for several Indian cities which, for long, have been exposed to high pollution levels.

PM 2.5:

  • PM 2.5 is an atmospheric particulate matter of diameter of fewer than 2.5 micrometres, which is around 3 per cent the diameter of a human hair. It causes respiratory problems and reduces visibility.
  • PM 2.5 particles can only be detected with the help of an electron microscope because they are so small.
  • The last 10 days data of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shows the city’s PM (Particulate Matter) 2.5 concentration has almost doubled already.

Its health implications:

  • As per studies, it could lead to premature death from heart and lung disease. Due to their smaller size, the PM 2.5 particles can easily bypass the nose and throat and can easily enter the circulatory system.
  • The particles can also lead to cause chronic diseases such as asthma, heart attack, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.
  • An increase of just 1 microgram per cubic metre of air (ug/m3) in PM 2.5 is associated with a 15% increase in the COVID-19 death rate, with 95% confidence interval.
  • They are also consistent with findings that air pollution exposure dramatically increased the risk of death during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2003, which is caused by another type of coronavirus.

Preventing from its effect:

  • Use air purifier equipped with a High-Efficiency Particulate Air filter (HEPA) filter, which can remove fine particles from the air.
  • Try to stay as much indoors, closing all windows that allow the entry of polluted air.
  • Avoid burning candles or other things which can emit smoke when you stay indoors.
  • Eat food that can increase your body’s resistance against PM 2.5.

Significance of the study:

  • The study warns that a failure to do so can potentially increase the death toll and hospitalisations, further burdening the healthcare system and drawing resources away from patients.
  • The study has been adjusted by population size, hospital beds, number of individuals tested, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioural variables.

Conclusion:

So the results underscore importance of continuing to enforce existing air pollution regulations during the COVID-19 crisis.


Coronavirus: Private labs must test for free, says Supreme Court

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and Technology

Prelims: Stages of coronavirus

Mains: Difference between pandemic and epidemic.

What’s the News?

On March 17, the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) had issued advisory allowing private labs to conduct for COVID-19 test, and fixed Rs 4,500 for it.

Supreme court order:

  • In an interim order, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to issue the necessary directions immediately, Private hospitals including laboratories have an important role to play in containing the scale of pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis.
  • The court said that whether the private laboratories should be reimbursed for the expenses incurred would be decided later on.
  • The court also directed that the COVID-19 tests be carried out in NABL-accredited labs or by agencies approved by the WHO or ICMR.

Private hospitals Reaction:

  • Around 69 private laboratories, including Dr Lal PathLabs, Dr Dangs Lab and Indraprastha Apollo, have been approved to carry out coronavirus tests.
  • They had sought clarification on whether the government could provide them the ingredients required for these tests for free or at a subsidised rate.

Coronavirus: Stages of a pandemic

  • First stage: In the first stage of a disease cases of an epidemic are imported into a country in which the infection did not originate and it eventually takes the form of a pandemic sweeping the globe.
  • Second stage: The second stage is when the virus starts being transmitted locally.

Local transmission means that the source of the infection is from within a particular area and the trajectory the virus has taken from one person to the next is clearly established.

  • Third stage: The third stage is that of community transmission which means that the virus is now circulating in the community, and can infect people with no history either of travel to affected areas or of contact with an infected person.
  • If and when community transmission happens, there might arise the need for a full lockdown because in that situation it is theoretically possible for every person, regardless of where they are from and who they have been in contact with, to spread the disease.
  • Fourth stage: from pandemic to endemic It is when the disease, COVID-19 in this case, becomes endemic in some countries.

Section 269 and 270:

  • While Section 269 provides for a jail term of six months and/or fine, Section 270 provides for a jail term of two years and/or fine.
  • In Section 270, the word ‘malignantly’ indicates a deliberate intention on the part of the accused.
  • During the coronavirus outbreak, penal provisions, such as Sections 188, 269 and 270 of the IPC, are being invoked to enforce the lockdown orders in various states.
  • Both Sections have been used for over a century to punish those disobeying orders issued for containing epidemics.

Implications of COVID-19:

  • The lockdowns have caused a major disruption in the global economy, leading to the deprivation of livelihood for crores of people.
  • Experts estimate a shrinking of the global GDP by 4 per cent — twice the amount caused by the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Another consequence of the halt in economic activity, however, is a notable reduction in pollution levels in several countries.
  • Despite the temporary improvement, the global response to the economic crisis could make things worse for the environment.
  • After the 2008 financial crash, a combination of stimulus programmes for sectors such as construction, along with low prices of fossil fuels, led to rapid growth in large developing economies like India and China.
  • Worldwide, as economies recovered, carbon emissions increased significantly than before the crisis.

Conclusion:

The outcome for the environment would be less damaging after lockdown if countries choose to invest in newer, climate-friendly industries, instead of relying on carbon-intensive sectors for their economic recovery.

MAINS QUESTION:

Discuss the implications of the spread of COVID-19 on economic activity and environment. Also discuss the strategy that countries need to adopt to balance the loss due to COVID-19 post-lockdown.


Donald Trump snaps at WHO — and India quietly sidestepped some of its advisories on virus

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and Technology

Mains: Need of reforming World Health Organization

What’s the News?

U.S President threatened to freeze US funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), saying the international group had “missed the call” on the coronavirus pandemic as WHO had gone along with Beijing’s efforts months ago to under-represent the severity of the outbreak.

World Health Organization (WHO): 

  • It is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1948 to further international cooperation for improved public health conditions.
  • Its tasks include epidemic control, quarantine measures, and drug standardization.

Funding for WHO:

There are four kinds of contributions that make up funding for the WHO.

  • Assessed contributions,
  • Specified voluntary contributions,
  • Core voluntary contributions, and
  • Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) contributions.

The amount each Member State must pay is calculated relative to the country’s wealth and population.

  • Voluntary contributions come from Member States (in addition to their assessed contribution) or from other partners. They can range from flexible to highly earmark.
  • Core voluntary contributions allow less well-funded activities to benefit from a better flow of resources and ease implementation bottlenecks that arise when immediate financing is lacking.
  • Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Contributions were started in 2011 to improve and strengthen the sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential, and to increase the access of developing countries to vaccines and other pandemic related supplies.

Need of reforming WHO:

  • WHO is not immune to global power-play as is being witnessed by reports of the director-general having shied away from naming the virus after the country where it originated — China — and delaying the declaration of a pandemic.
  • Only a quarter of its budget comes from contributions from UN member-states, and the real money to power its work is from voluntary funding by countries and organisations.
  • The organization’s widely faulted response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak underscored the need for profound changes.
  • The organization’s hobbled response to the Ebola outbreak was evidenced in its decision to withdraw its international team too soon from Guinea and Liberia, poor responses to requests for technical guidance from local health authorities, slowness in declaring the severity of the outbreak, and its failure to rapidly mobilize global assistance.

AREAS OF REQUIRED REFORMS: 

Decision making:

  • The main decision-making body at WHO is the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), attended by all member-states.
  • Then, there is the Executive Board (EB) comprising technically qualified persons from 34 countries, elected based on geographic representation from across the globe.
  • The EB also needs to go beyond only geographic representation and ensure that major stakeholders such as the largest economies and those with the largest populations are always on it.
  • At the UN, there is a precedent for this in the composition of the board of UN Women which, apart from representation from different regions, also has representation from the largest donors.

Democracy in representation:

Global public health emergencies involve people across the world. Voices from developing countries must be part of the decision-making process.

Collaborative research in drugs and medical research:

  • Drugs and medical science is a huge and lucrative industry where Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) count above all however there is little willingness, for collaborative research even in times of crisis.
  • Neither WHO nor any multilateral organisation is involved in drugs research. They must be involved in rolling out new drugs in developed countries.

Affordability will be a key, and the past record is not exemplary. WHO, along with others such as the World Trade Organization, must find ways to make affordable access to such key drugs in critical times possible.

Conclusion:

  • It is time to use the crisis to launch much-needed, long-due reforms and overhaul WHO.
  • This is critical as WHO is the lead global agency on public health.
  • Its institutional arrangements must be able to strongly push global cooperation in public health and support developing countries in real-time.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Hydrochloroquinine:

  • HCQ is used to prevent and treat malaria. Other uses include treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus (an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues).
  • India is the biggest manufacturer of HCQ, a derivative of antimalarial drug chloroquine. The drug is being aggressively sought by for treatment of Covid-19 (the disease caused by coronavirus).