A war won

Dr Shashi Sharma
Not all wars are fought in the battle grounds. Wars indeed stand for resisting the enemy that initiated it to wipe out sometimes the whole race from the screen of the world and the races fighting for their survival on the only planet known to its inhabitant as a living entity in the universe. The craving for a victory happens not for the victory but for the truth of getting eliminated on losing the battle. This is a competition for existence in a dimension called life and the battle ground could be a piece of land or the buildings called hospitals or even the screens of our minds.
The present piece of writing rewinds a journey of one such battle where on one side our own race of humanity was threatened for its survival and existence by an invisible enemy that was completely undiscovered to the human race. The journey of this long battle between humans attacked by a virus has seen more than two years that proved one of the toughest imprinted in our history. On this side of the world, a small piece of mother earth to which we belong and known to us as the UT of Jammu and Kashmir, the first weapon of courage and determination was taken by a lone ranger of that time – Government Medical College Jammu. It was on 9th of March 2020 two years ago that the first official RT PCR testing for reporting the invisible enemy was done. The journey began from a meager ability to expanded limits of successful reporting of more than 11 lakh RT PCR tests.
The unshakable spirits to lead the community to a safe end that we witness today has seen great ups and downs and the bumpy paths full of thorns and stones. In the midst of the battle ground stood RT PCR laboratory of the Department of Microbiology GMC Jammu as a firm warrior that estimated the strength of the enemy at war and within the shortest possible time started building and enhancing its own powers in the form of several budding RT PCR laboratories not only in Jammu division but in the whole UT. The efforts were so magnanimous that today we have an extensive network of many such laboratories throughout our UT. Besides receiving and reporting maximum numbers of samples, the laboratory had been actively participating in an in depth research of every positive sample and validated the results by repeating the tests on different kits and thermo-cycler machines to confirm the test efficacy. In addition the laboratory had successfully been approved on various occasions by different reference laboratories like SKIMS Soura and PGI Chandigarh in terms of quality assurance. It has also transformed itself into a teaching institute where the skills of sample collection, packaging, transportation, donning and doffing of PPE and efficient handling and management of biomedical waste has been persistently taught to the laboratory technicians and health care workers from the remotest parts of this region. The continuous inflow of information from the apex bodies like ICMR and NIV Pune has kept the laboratory updated with the latest guidelines and strategies to fight against COVID 19.
The viral research and diagnostic laboratory of the Department of Microbiology has been operational from 2014 onwards and has served the nation on various occasions of need including the spread of disease like Dengue and Swine flu in the past.
Achievements of COVID 19 lab
* The viral diagnostic laboratory has stretched its testing capacity from a minimum meager to more than 3000 tests per day.
* The COVID 19 testing laboratory has persistently provided a positive feedback to the administration that has facilitated them to frame important policies.
* There has been a continous sharing of experience and information with other laboratories of the country and the premier institutes like ICMR and NIV Pune that helped them to make important guidelines and protocols.
* This laboratory has been actively involved in the teaching and training programes including imparting the skills of sample collection, donning, doffing and biomedical waste management. This has helped in reducing the tremendous pressure on district hospitals and new medical colleges as teams for sample collection were trained to work in remotest areas in the UT.
* The laboratory has timely co operated the state reference laboratories for quality check and quality assurance.
The laboratory has provided man power, reagents and technical assistance to branching laboratories like IIIM and Command Hospital Udhampur.
There is no denying the fact that when this war begun, there was fear and a sense of insecurity towards an enemy that was invisible and unknown. Understandably, the fear was the most among those who had to receive the samples and deal with the initial processing of the same. Our laboratory was not well equipped, the infrastructure was not compatible to deal with a dangerous pathogen like SARS CoV 2 and the skills of handling had yet to be practiced on ground. The spirits of the team however overpowered the fear of getting themselves or their loved ones in their families infected. All members of the brave team took a bold decision of staying away from their families in administrative quarantines and hotels.
A strict adherence to the protocols was practiced in the sample collection and processing areas of the laboratory. The process of manual RNA extraction takes about 4 to 5 hours for mammoth load of samples and due to the space constraint not more than 3 technicians were allowed to stand in the high containment zone of the laboratory. A full PPE gear was donned for this much time and the returns to their laborious works was profuse sweating and blisters on the back. All the sufferings however turned to a cool breeze when they felt a sense of service towards nation in mind.
Yes! More than infrastructure it is a will to contribute by the team and good lab practices. Revisiting the paths travelled once is a must to feel the cool breeze of the victory of battles fought and won…..
(The author is Principal GMC Jammu)