Letter: To PM, India from Virology Expert


Dear Honorable Prime Minister Modi ji:

As I am aware of the fact that you have to listen scientific people around you for scientific suggestions but let me bring some facts to you.

World Health Organization puts out statistics on various causes of deaths in each country every year. I checked for one recent year, in India, 1.23 million people died of diarrhoeal diseases compared to 18000 in China. Influenza, pneumonia and TB together killed about 1.1 million people compared to 0.75 million in China. Another 4 or 5 million people are dying in each year from heart problems, stroke, cancer, diabetes etc.

Today Coronavirus is making the whole world panicked with deaths. This shows how important to control infectious diseases. There are no proper diagnostic kits to detect this virus; they don’t have antibody testing kits to check how many people got infected already (seroprevalence). Everybody is rushing to make poor quality kits, which don’t have the required specificity and sensitivity. These ventures are now becoming big news items in various media.

Prof Guntaka was one of discoverer of Proto-oncogenes, first to sequence genome of Rous Sarcoma Virus, was behind the successful development of the Recombinant Hepatitis B Vaccine by Shantha Biotech, developed interferon alpha, first scientist to clone and study the complete genome of the Indian strains of Hepatitis C virus, was produced all the antigens to detect Hepatitis C Virus etc.

They could have tested the genomes of the coronavirus that is prevalent in India. This would give some idea how it is evolving. Many research labs can do but we did not see many genome sequences of the virus from India whereas all the major countries in the world including China and Korea published a large number of these sequences, inspite of the fact that India has excellent genetic sequencing facilities all around the country through its lab’s network of CSIR, DBT, DST, ICMR, Private companies etc.

How many diagnostic kits are they “making” in India? How many kits are imported into India? From which countries? Are they assessing the quality of the kits with respect to its specificity and sensitivity? Because Millions of coronavirus kits are necessary to detect and determine the seroprevalence in India, meaning what percentage of people were infected and recovered. These are done by testing for the coronavirus antigens and antibodies.

Are these kits (both Ag and Ab) available in India? To my knowledge, not even a single State in India has the capability to develop these kits and even if some small companies developed, they can’t produce in quantities required. Everybody depends on countries like China and South Korea etc. As you all know the quality of Chinese kits and reagents are not good.

Ask your Health Department, the ICMR, the DST and DBT, who are spending several thousands of crores rupees on Research. Ask what the prestigious All India Institutes of Medical Sciences doing?

If we minimize political interference and influence in healthcare and other science and technology agencies and give highest priority to high quality research, India can be in the forefront of Research and Development and can compete with anybody in the world. Indians have enormous talent but most of it is wasted in India without doing much, whereas the same Indians are excelling in all fronts in USA and in other countries.

Locking down 130 crores of people in their homes and putting millions of policemen to achieve this, will not solve the problem. It is a big mistake. It might be prudent to do for 2 to 3 weeks initially but prolonged lock down will not do any good; it will only prolong the pandemic. Wiser decisions to protect the seniors and letting the younger (who are at minimal risk) work, would alleviate the problem.

In areas where there is one positive case, police are working at full force to block the people going out. They can spend that time to identify and isolate those positive cases and devote more time in taking care of and helping senior citizens.

Wise decisions by the Government with the advice of experts will slow down the current pandemic instead of locking down the whole country.


Ramareddy V Guntaka, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Microbiology, Immunology & Biochemistry, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 858 Madison Ave, Memphis, TN 38163, Phone; 901-448-8230, Fax:901-448-7360,

Communicated on May 1, 2020

Note: Views expressed by author are personal and do not reflect the views of Biotech Express or its Editors/Advisers/Members.


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