A first in India: Bengaluru to test sewage water for COVID detection

Govt plans to begin testing across 45 wards in Bengaluru, covering over 75% of the city's 90 lakh population

sewage testing, coronavirus, wastewater surveillance, COVID-19, polio, coronavirus testing,
Scientists have found that wastewater testing could form a cost-effective early warning system to assess a spike in COVID cases. -- Representative Image

Testing sewage water to assess the prevalence of COVID-19 is gaining traction. After the United Kingdom, the Karnataka government will start experimenting with such a system where a city-wide surveillance system will trace coronavirus and help identify potential clusters.

It’s learnt that this “innovative” sewage-testing programme covers two-thirds of England’s population.

Additional Chief Secretary of Urban Development Department (Karnataka) Rakesh Singh has said the state government plans to begin testing across 45 wards in Bengaluru. The system will cover over 75% of Bengaluru’s 90 lakh population by generating over 90 data points per week signaling either an emerging COVID cluster or a COVID cluster’s exit from an area. “We are happy to launch this model in Bangalore, a first in India,” Singh was quoted as saying.

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The project was launched in association with PCMH Restore Health and Wellness, part of CovidActionCollab (CAC). Supported by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Skoll Foundation, the CAC is an India-wide collaboration of 300 organizations helping the state government to launch the new system.

Scientists have found that wastewater testing could form a cost-effective early warning system to assess a spike in COVID cases before the number of cases actually goes up. This can help in generating information before limited pandemic resources are allocated.

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The programme has supported the detection of local outbreaks or the presence of variants of concern, which it can link to specific communities via the sewage treatment network.

Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, told BBC that “it is enabling us to respond more effectively to outbreaks and better protect citizens.”

And since it can cause infections without any symptoms, Dr Harries said that it “helps us understand where it may be circulating undetected”.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the approach was being used to monitor the Indian variant of the virus and to track its spread.

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