Venue: Vigyan Bhavan
The President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, graced and addressed the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the partnership between the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Wellcome Trust on November 12, 2018 in New Delhi.
Speaking on the occasion, the President said that as the partnership between the Department of Biotechnology and the Wellcome Trust completes its first decade, this is an opportune moment for the India Alliance to draft its priorities for the next phase. Today, through science and technology, humans wield unimaginable power over the future of our planet. We, therefore, have a responsibility like never before. And scientists, particularly bio-scientists, are our soldiers and generals in the battle to safeguard our planet, our species and our future.
The President suggested four frontlines in this battle. He said that the first is the environment. Our air, water and soil must be cleaned. While we do so, we must mitigate the consequences on human and livestock health. The second frontline is that of lifestyle diseases. Diabetes, hypertension and cardiac diseases are on the rise. In the quarter-century since 1990, the number of Indians living with diabetes grew from 26 million to 65 million. In the same period, the incidence of all cancers increased by almost 30 per cent. The third frontline is infectious disease. While we take on known infectious diseases, lesser-known ones threaten to expand. Disease, like science, knows no boundaries. Pandemic influenza viruses don’t need passports and visas to spread. On the other hand, the shrinking of animal habitats is creating room for zoonotic diseases and diseases that jump species. The final frontline is diseases of the brain. Factors that include urban stress and a significant elderly population have left India facing a mental health epidemic. Preventive measures, relevant to our genetics and our lifestyle, are in the realm of theory, waiting to be discovered. We must discover these if our people are to age well, with full mental capacities.
The President urged defining the future of the India Alliance on these four frontlines. He said that we are at the edge of an era of great hope as well as of great uncertainty. Personalized and precision medicine; genomic medicine; lab-generated organs; rationalizing data privacy with data use for clinical research and the larger public good – issues such as these offer scope for our well-being but could also pose bioethical dilemmas as well as legal questions. Separately but perhaps relatedly this is the subject of regulation and policy framing. In India, in various fields, we have sometimes found a gap between those who are practitioners and those who are regulators. As the bio sciences grow and evolve, more practitioners should come into regulatory roles as well.