We’ve no time for wastewater surveillance for Covid: BBMP

BBMP City COVID-19

Contradicts media reports saying it would do so

The BBMP has said it has no time or knowledge to conduct wastewater surveillance for Covid-19, denying media reports that it plans to conduct such an exercise.

“The BBMP has nothing to do with wastewater testing for Covid-19. We already have much on our plate and have no time to even think about wastewater testing for Covid-19,” the BBMP health department’s Chief Commissioner D. Randeep, informed The Observer. Asked about a contrary statement given by Swasti Health Catalyst, an NGO, he added: “No, we know nothing about it.”

Mr Suresh, BBMP’s Covid-19 surveillance officer, said: “We don’t have anything to do with wastewater surveillance. Please contact the Karnataka state government. Maybe they are doing something about it.”

Saoor S.B., a project manager at Swasti Health Catalyst, said: “We are in charge of the Bangalore initiative of sewage surveillance for Covid-19. It is being carried under our platform ‘Precision Health’. We will further extend the initiative to other cities as well. Currently, we have a team of five who are implementing the project. We carry out tests in research labs which bring to light regions having high Covid-19 transmission rate. As of now, 45 spots have been identified throughout different localities of Bangalore. Six-seven boys are sent to collect sewage samples. We share our lab results with the BBMP so they can take appropriate measures to control the spread in areas with higher positivity either by increasing vaccine coverage or by increasing testing. Till now, 0.43 is the maximum positivity rate that we have recorded. Mahadevapura had a higher number of cases than other zones.” 

Wastewater testing has a bright future. It can be used to find 20-25 different viruses. Currently it is being implemented only in Bengaluru, he said.

Four months ago, the Deccan Herald, The Hindu, The Times of India and The News Minute reported that Bengaluru would be India’s first city to carry out wastewater surveillance for Covid-19.

“1st in India: Sewage in 45 Bengaluru wards to be tested for coronavirus clusters. The system will eventually cover over 75% of Bengaluru’s 90 lakh residents,” read the headline of a report in Deccan Herald dated May 28. The report said the project had  been launched in association with PCMH Restore Health and Wellness, which is a part of the CovidActionCollab collective, supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Skoll Foundation.

Shan Venkat, co-founder of PCMH Restore Health and Wellness was cited saying: “We will have a meeting with the BBMP chief commissioner every month where our findings will be discussed and decisions will be taken.”

A similar report in the Financial Express noted “Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) partnered with Swasti to test wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 RNA in June 2020.”

The Times of India reported “With a rise in Covid cases, sewage surveillance system launched in Bengaluru for early detection of infection to track the virus even among asymptomatic individuals is at its early stage. The CAC is working with PCMH Restore Health and Wellness and Swasti, the Health Catalyst initiative to assist the Government of Karnataka in the roll out of this innovative approach to control Covid-19.”

“We are happy to launch this model in Bengaluru, the first in India. Wastewater testing could be a cost-effective early warning system to assess the increase in Covid-19 cases before the number of official cases goes up. Early identification of these clusters can help guide the Covid-19 response and give policymakers the information they need to better allocate the limited pandemic resources,” said Rakesh Singh, Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development Department, BBMP.

According to the WHO website, “Environmental surveillance of Sars-CoV-2 in wastewater can be employed as a complementary tool to clinical surveillance of covid-19. It provides supporting information to provide an ample picture of occurrence of infection and take decisive public health response action.”

The Netherlands, Spain and Australia have adopted wastewater testing for Covid-19 surveillance. Several studies indicate that environmental samples help detect the virus several days before clinical surveillance. It can be used as an early warning in countries that have already contained the virus and are easing restrictions.

chhavi.v@iijnm.org

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