Dengue outbreaks have become so frequent in India that the disease has become an epidemic. The National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme found that 129,329 people have fallen sick with dengue in 2016-17, while 200 have died. While these figures are seriously worrisome, India’s top expert on dengue Dr Navin Khanna feels dengue is not a big threat, if we commoners take preventive measures. Global warming is helping outbreaks of this disease, so there is no use in blaming the government for its spread, opined Dr Khanna, who heads the Recombinant Gene Products Group at the International Centre for Genetics Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi.
Treatment of dengue gets delayed since it takes some days to diagnose the infectious disease. Dr Khanna developed a kit called ‘Dengue Day 1’ to diagnose dengue within 15 minutes of the test at a cheaper cost as compared to other kits available in the Indian market. The kit helps in finding out whether the virus is in the primary or secondary stage. This helps doctors in treating the patient quickly and also detects all four types of dengue viruses.
For his work on developing the Dengue Day 1 kit, Dr Navin Khanna was presented with the Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation Award at the fifth National Conference of Social Innovation (NCSI), jointly organized by the Pune International Centre (PIC), the National Innovation Foundation and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Pune. The award constitutes a plaque of honour and a cheque of INR100,000.
Giving details about the hardwork behind his success story, Dr Khanna said he has developed 26 kits over the past 26 years, of these 23 have done well. Although the Dengue Day 1 kit is cheaper, more accurate and time-saving as compared to other imported kits in the market, the Indian government was reluctant to buy it. During the dengue outbreak in 2013 across the country, imported kits ran out of stock. The central government placed an order for a Korean kit, but the consignment went to Africa by mistake. “The government was forced to buy the kit developed by us. It is only then the government realized the efficacy of our kit,” said Dr Khanna.
“We blame the government for the spread of dengue. However, it is our responsibility to take preventive measures. If these measures are taken, then dengue is not a big threat. Global warming is helping outbreaks of the disease. It is a big drain on the health system,” said Dr Navin Khanna.
After presenting the award to Dr Navin Khanna, Union Minister for Human Resource Development Prakash Javadekar underlined the value of education and inculcating values among children. “My mother was a teacher in a Zilla Parishad school. She imparted good values to us. She would not give me the highest mark in my class saying that people would doubt her integrity, even though I stood first in the class. Education has transformed lives of children from poor families.”
Prof Anil Gupta from the National Innovation Foundation described how innovators are traced by his team during their annual NIF Shodh Yatra in remote villages of India. During the 40th NIF Shodh Yatra, they found an interesting solution for village women in Gurez valley in Kashmir, who are forced to carry 30-40kg of wood daily on their back ahead of the winter season. A village innovator called Tauseef innovated a bukhari (fire place) to reduce the weight of fuel wood to just 3-4kg daily for a room.
Ruing that school textbooks do not have content on these innovations, which could inspire school children, Anil Gupta said, “These innovation stories should become part of textbooks, but unfortunately, they are not recognized. The PIC has filled this gap by honoring rural, tribal and urban innovators emerging across India.
Highlighting the success of the past conferences, renowned scientist & PIC Chairman Raghunath Mashelkar said, “Several innovators and awardees in the previous conferences have been funded by corporate houses. They are doing well.” He cited some examples such as Dr Mihir Shah, who developed a portable, non-intrusive device to detect breast cancer in women at an affordable rate and in less time.
Apart from Dr Navin Khanna, the NSCI 2017 conference felicitated 17 urban, rural and tribal innovators, who also showcased their innovations. Several corporate organizations evinced interest to fund these innovations and take them forward including Mercedez Benz, Tata Trust, Cummins India and ONGC.
Noteworthy among them were: non-fatal, portable wild animal repelling electrical fencing developed by Adarsh under the aegis of BAIF in Uttarakhand, Niharika’s library for tribal children in Maharashtra in the tribal category; hand-cranked defibrillator by Ashish Gawade and Aniruddha Atre, the medical oxygen therapy by Genrich Membrane in the rural category; and sanitary napkins made from banana fiber by Saathi and the Bhavani gadget presented by Dr Pavan Kohli in the urban category.
Read more about innovators at NSCI 2017 conference here