Don’t waste the wastewater

Source: The post is based on the article “Don’t waste the wastewater” published in The Hindu on 11th July 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Health

Relevance: significance of wastewater surveillance in improving public health

News: A recently published study in The Lancet Global Health has reiterated the effectiveness of using wastewater for public health surveillance.

What is wastewater surveillance? 

Wastewater surveillance is the process of monitoring wastewater for contaminants. It was originally proposed to monitor the spread of poliovirus and played a role in confirming India’s victory over poliovirus.

Recently, it was identified as an approach for tracking the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

What are the advantages of wastewater surveillance for public health?

Wastewater surveillance is effective in detecting known or emerging health threats. It is a cost-effective approach that does not rely on invasive samples from individuals with clinical symptoms.

However, despite the improvements made in public health surveillance system in India, it still faces many implementation challenges.

According to a report by Niti Aayog, the public health surveillance system suffers from uneven coverage and fragmented disease-specific efforts.

How can wastewater surveillance be effectively implemented in India?

Wastewater surveillance in India could involve analysis of samples from varied sources such as wastewater ponds in rural areas and centralised sewage systems in urban localities.

These samples would then undergo testing in laboratories to identify disease-causing agents such as genetic fragments of bacteria or viruses.

The data could be integrated with other health data sources to provide real-time insights into community-level disease patterns, sometimes even earlier than clinical data.

Moreover, the integration of wastewater surveillance into existing surveillance mechanisms has the potential to enhance India’s epidemiological capabilities.

How can the integration of wastewater surveillance into existing surveillance mechanisms enhance India’s epidemiological capabilities?

Strengthening public health laboratory could strengthen the capacity to detect diseases at an early stage, particularly in areas with limited access to healthcare facilities and diagnostic testing.

Additionally, the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, offers an opportunity for the integration of wastewater surveillance. This integration can enable real-time tracking of disease spread and enhance targeted public health responses.

Further, the success of wastewater surveillance relies on effective data sharing, domestically as well as internationally.

Domestically, granting health departments at all levels of government access to wastewater surveillance data can enhance disease monitoring and response capabilities. 

Whereas, internationally, sharing this data with global health agencies can facilitate collaborative efforts in disease tracking and mitigation. 

Must Read: NITI Aayog releases ‘Vision 2035’: Public Health Surveillance in India

What efforts have been taken by India in public health and wastewater surveillance?

India has already championed public health surveillance and mobilised resources accordingly. The integration of wastewater surveillance also aligns well with Niti Aayog’s current vision. 

Additionally, social media surveillance and occupational health surveillance, are also being recognized as valuable tools in public health surveillance.

What can be the way ahead?

India’s leadership in international platforms like the G20 presents an opportunity to highlight the importance of innovative approaches to disease surveillance, and advocate for enhanced public health surveillance that integrates wastewater sampling.

By actively promoting this agenda, India can call for international commitments and support as well as establish itself as a leader and coordinator in this field.

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