Fighting viral infections

Dr Rakhi Mahajan
Many times the soldiers are told to leave their camps and move to the battle grounds to fight with the enemies. But sometimes the wars need to be fought outside the boundaries of the battle grounds. This essentially happens when the enemy is limitless and the wars are fought not for lands or the untrue egos of those who occupy the power to hold the destiny of millions of people but for the very existence of the human survival. Or else your back towards the reality holds the capacity 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.
One big step ahead towards reality was the three days conference held in GMC Srinagar where the department of virology, PGI Chandigarh held their hands with the department of Microbiology, GMC Srinagar and the participation of the microbiology team from GMC Jammu was such that it gave its hands to surround and ensure the feasibility of that hand shake. Many more hands joined further and the conference emerged as a huge success. There was an active participation not only by GMC Jammu but from all its daughter organizations like GMC Kathua, GMC Rajouri and GMC Doda. A sustainable effort from the stalwarts of medicine and microbiology like legendry presentations by Dr. Mohammad Sultan Khuru, Director Digestive Disease Center and Ex Director SKIMS, Dr. Parvaiz koul, Director SKIMS Soura, Dr. Aijaz Nabi Koul, Additional Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, SKIMS Soura and Dr. R K Ratho, HOD, Department of virology, PGI Chandigarh not only created a galaxy of the light of information but also dissipated the motivation among the fresh recruits in the battle by creating such waves that seemed to be more powerful than the waves of COVID 19. Dr. Shashi Sudan Sharma, Principal/Dean and Head, Department of Microbiology, GMC Jammu joined hands in the hands of Dr. Samia Rashid, Principal/Dean, GMC Srinagar and Dr. Anjum Farhana, Head, Department of Microbiology, GMC Srinagar.Dr. Shashi also chaired the session on day
Dr. Mehreen Syed Gurcoo, a post graduate from the department of Microbiology, GMC Jammu bought laurels and repute to her institute when she topped the list of 55 poster presentations and was declared a winner by the panel of judges. She presented her research entitled “Evaluation of pooling of nasopharyngeal samples for the detection of SARS CoV 2 in fully automated COBAS 6800 in a tertiary care hospital” The much acclaimed paper was guided and supported by Dr. Shashi Sudan Sharma who has become a pioneer in the battle against COVID 19 in Jammu division and has already been acknowledged by the LG of UT of JK by receiving an award for her contributions.
The journey of this long battle between humans attacked by a virus has seen more than two years that proved one of the toughest imprints 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 under the leadership of Dr. Shashi Sudan Sharma, and still carrying the flame in her hand for any such future war that may be thrust on us. This day marks the completion of two years of this battle fought and won as on 9th of March 2020, the first official RT PCR testing for reporting the invisible enemy was done. 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. These initiatives of Dr. Shashi Sudhan Sharma who also is known to be a microbiologist of great repute, have been appreciated by the government on several different occasions in the past. She headed the department of Microbiology GMC Jammu during the toughest of the days of the pandemic and served the UT in establishing GMC Kathua as the first principal of the new medical college besides being appointed the principal investigator of VRDL of all medical colleges.
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 continuous 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 with 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 began, 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.
The wars of any nature are fought and won both by means of effective planning and a sustained coordination between the soldiers.
Yes ! we always stand by any effort by any soldier of this war at any point of time.