Better disease surveillance on cards with planned NCDC laboratories

NEW DELHI : In a major push for India’s public health response mechanism, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is planning to set up 10 Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) laboratories across the country, a government official aware of the matter said. The apex body under Union health ministry is also planning metropolitan public health surveillance units in 20 cities, and five new regional units.

NCDC has held consultations with states and Union territories to identify the locations for these facilities as proposed under the Prime Minister Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission, the official said. The facilities, once in place, will give granular surveillance data on specific cities in real time on viruses such as monkeypox, zika and covid. Currently, NCDC has eight regional branches with BSL-3 labs.

Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Pune, Thane, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and Lucknow are the tier 1 cities selected for metropolitan public health surveillance units, while Agra, Jaipur, Bhopal, Nagpur, Bhuwaneshwar, Shimla, Chandigarh, Gurugram, Guwahati and Patna are tier II cities selected for such facilities. The locations planned for BSL-3 labs are Hyderabad, Raipur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Rohtak, Shimla, Ranchi, Dharwad, Varanasi and Amravati.

“Recently, we had a meeting with states/UTs on this matter and we asked them to identify land for 10 BSL-3 laboratories, metropolitan public health surveillance units in top 20 cities and five regional units under NCDC,” the official said, adding they also discussed surveillance strategies for diseases circulating in India and around the world.

NCDC has an integrated health information platform, but it has not expanded to all states. When information comes from all sources to one platform, there will be real-time information. At present, there are three sources to feed the surveillance data —filed by field level workers, doctors, and laboratory staff. States are gradually moving from paper-based systems to digital platforms.

“We target to build an IT-enabled disease surveillance system through network of surveillance laboratories at block, district, regional and national levels, in metropolitan areas and strengthening health units at the points of entry, for effectively detecting, investigating, preventing, and combating public health emergencies, disease outbreaks and future pandemic,” the official added.

PM-ABHIM is the largest pan-India scheme for strengthening healthcare infrastructure. Its main aim is to establish a health system which responds effectively to pandemics and disasters.

“Under the scheme, there is a provision for setting up of Integrated Public Health Labs in all 730 districts across the country (upto FY 2025-26) with an outlay of 1,482.60 crore which includes 990.40 crore as central share and 492.20 crore as state share,” junior health minister Bharti Pravin Pawar recently said.

During the pandemic, NCDC has played a key role in planning surveillance strategy at every level.

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