Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Science and Technology Minister, has put research into preterm (also known as “premature”) births into high gear so that India is first in developing a treatment line that is failsafe as well as safe for mothers.Addressing the 35th annual conference of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (UPPEDICON 2014) at Kanpur’s prestigious Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi Memorial Medical College last night, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “We are working on a research project that will identify the reasons behind the yet-unexplained phenomenon of preterm births and hopefully a treatment line for it will be India’s gift to modern medical science before long.”India’s Biotechnologists, he spelt out, are among the best in the world. India already has the largest number of United States Federal Drug Authority (FDA) approved biotech plants. The introduction of the product patent regime in the country is an incentive to be quick on the draw with original panacea for ailments.
Dr Harsh Vardhan regretted that some giant multinational pharmaceutical companies are trying to influence public opinion by advocating the use of Human Pappiloma Virus (HPV) vaccines to prevent preterm births.He said, “HPV vaccines have proved controversial in India. The matter is under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. Our mother and child programme is more holistic and oriented to building up a society full of happy families where a child gets maximum chance for growth and future contribution to society.” He noted that research into the yet-unexplained phenomenon of preterm births has seen the highest growth of fund deployment in western countries because of their governments’ concern with ageing populations. Globally, more than 15 million preterm births are recorded, of which 1.1 million die of complications. Admitting that India has the highest rate of deaths of children under five years –3.6 lakh per year according to the same John Hopkins study – Dr Harsh Vardhan hastened to add that poverty leading to inadequate nourishment, paucity of institutional birth centres, inadequate reach of government health programmes and a host of other problems constitute a larger worry.
Explaining the contours of the Department of Biotechnology’s research initiative, Dr Harsh Vardhan said 8,000 pregnant women are being tracked over the next five years with a view to analyse the health, genome and lifestyle profiles which could lead to the identification of the risk factors for preterm births. After that it may be possible to forecast which women are likely to deliver babies before the normal term of 39 to 40 weeks. This is part of the “Grand Challenge Programme” undertaken by the Department. A budget of Rs 48.85 crore has been earmarked for the project which will be carried out at the Gurgaon- based Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI), Gurgaon district hospital, Safdarjung Hospital, Maulana Azad Medical College, AIIMS and National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, West Bengal.