Hours before she gave birth to a daughter…

Letter from New Delhi

The woman who gave India an important weapon to fight against coronavirus – Minal Dakhave Bhosale

 By Kul Bhushan

The discussion on India’s fight against coranavirus has been limited to only a few people.

But it is hoped that there will be a change in this situation. The hope for such a change has arisen thanks to the efforts of a virologist. This woman virologist worked continuously despite being pregnant. She worked till the last few hours before the delivery to prepare the first functional test kit for India.

It’s believed that with the help of this kit, the patients of Covid-19 will be tested in the backdrop of increasing suspected cases.

Pune’s Mylab Discovery is the first firm to get permission for the development and sale of this testing kit. It has since sent its first batch of 150 test kits to Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Goa and Bangalore. The director of the medical unit of Mylab Discovery, Dr. Gautam Vankhede, said on BBC, “Our manufacturing unit is working on this weekend as well, we’ll send the next batch on Monday.”

This molecular diagnostic company prepares testing kits for HIV, Hepatitis B and C and many other diseases as well. The company claimed to supply one lakh (100,000) Covid-19 testing kits within one week and if necessary, will be able to prepare another 2 lakh kits.
Each of the Mylab kits can test for 100 samples. The kit is quite cheap for Rs 1200, compared to the imported kits that cost Rs 4500.

The chief virologist of the research and development of Mylab Discovery, Minal Dakhave Bhosale says, “Our kit can test for the infection in 2 and a half hours, while the kit from abroad takes about 6 to 7 hours.”

Minal is the chief of the team that prepared the coronavirus testing kit or the patho detect, in such a short time. The time needed to make this kit is around 3 to 4 months, but this team did it in a record time of 6 weeks. It is interesting that Minal herself was facing a deadline during this time, giving birth to a baby girl last week itself. During her pregnancy, she started working on the kit project in February. Minal told BBC, “It was a time of emergency, so I took it as a challenge. I also want to serve my nation.” According to Minal, a team of 10 scientists worked very hard for the success of this project.

Just a day before delivery, she submitted the testing kit to National Institute of Virology (NIV) for its examination. That evening, before going to the hospital, Minal sent the kit to India’s Food and Drugs Control Authority for professional approval. 

Dr Vankhede says, “We had very little time. Our reputation was at stake. But everything went well in the first go. Our efforts were led by Minal.”

Before sending the kit for testing, the team checked it for various parameters so that the results were accurate. Minal Bhosale says, “If you want to test 10 samples, the results should be consistent for all 10 samples. We attained this perfection. Our kit is perfect.”

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) of the Indian government approved the Mylab kit. National Institute of Virology (NIV) works under the Indian Council for Medical Research.

ICMR said that Mylab is the sole company of India whose results are 100% accurate.
The tests for testing corona virus cases have been really low. For every 10-lakh people, only 6.8 tests have been conducted, the lowest level of testing as compared to all the other countries of the world.

In the beginning, only those people were tested in India who were returning from high risk countries, or had come in contact with some infected person or a person attending to infected person. Later, the government said that in the wake of serious respiratory problems, patients admitted in the hospitals will also be tested.

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Bustling with thousands of pilgrims year-round, Haridwar is silent and deserted

With the current coronavirus lockdown in India, the silence of the mountains has descended on the bustling Haridwar city at the foothills of the Himalayas where the river enters the plains. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims from all over India are joined by overseas Hindus round the year to bathe in the holy river Ganges at this city to wash away their sins. Plus, devout Hindus carry the ashes of their departed relatives to be immersed in the holy river for the salvation of their souls. The priests or the pundits are always busy performing these rites and rituals. The markets are busy selling holy rosaries and trinkets.

Normally bustling with jostling pilgrims, the bridge and the temple are empty of all human traffic

Not now. An eerie silence envelops the entire city. The banks and the temples are silent. The hotels and rest houses are locked up. The banks or Ghats (bathing steps) are deserted. The shops are closed. The streets are empty.

The most famous Ghat called Har ki Pauri (Steps of the Divine) hosts the daily Ganga Aarti which is a major attraction here. Hundreds of pilgrims set float tiny boats made of leaves carrying flowers and a flickering lamp every evening to create a divine experience. Now this Aarti or worship is performed by a sole priest.

The sole desk of a priest is waiting for the absent pilgrims

Shops selling groceries, medicines and milk open from 7 am to 1 pm. Banks open from 7 am to 10 am. After 1 p m, the city seems to go into a coma. The local hospital examined 95 persons of which 72 were negative for the virus. The others are being treated, reported Jagran newspaper on 1 April 2020.

About seven or eight cases of virus infection have also been reported in the city. These people arrived from abroad before the lockdown and have been confined to their homes in self-isolation. Daily checks are carried out by the police and health officials on their infection and movements.

As its sole means of income, the pilgrims, have vanished, a silent Haridwar has been hit hard with lockdown.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

* Published in print edition on 17 April 2020

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