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What Made News in Health and Environment in 2022


The year 2022 saw key events in two crucial beats – health and environment – dominate frontpages and headlines for days on end.

The Wire’s reporters covering these two fields summarise the year and its highlights for readers.

Health

The beginning of 2022 saw the emergence of the fourth variant of novel coronavirus, Omicron.

The first emergence saw some spike in cases but cases started plummeting gradually. Many sub variants of Omicron made appearances, primarily BA.2.75 and XBB but no overwhelming of hospital infrastructure was observed. However, what shocked public health experts and scientists towards the end of the year was hype created around BF.7, another subvariant of Omicron.

While the government held a series of meetings with even Prime Minister Narendra Modi chairing one, TV channels dubbed BF.7 as new even though its first case was registered in June. China was experiencing a massive wave but disease dynamics of China are very different from India. Despite a consistent declining graph of cases as well as positivity rate, amplification of panic renewed people’s fear of lockdown and at least one state – Karnataka – bringing back mask mandates. The emergence of the panic remains a mystery

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The World Health Organisation  issued a product alert on October 5 against four medicines made by Haryana-based Maiden Pharmaceuticals Limited linking them ‘potentially’ with deaths of 70 children in Gambia due to presence of two toxins – Diethylene Glycol and Ethylene Glycol. Indian government, in its own investigation, cleared the name of the company and said it found no contamination in the samples it tested and accused the WHO of making ‘premature deductions’, in December.

The Wire, however, accessed a report of a lab in Switzerland where the WHO had sent samples for testing, and reported on December 19, that the four products had DEG ranging from 1-21% – a huge amount that could be fatal. On December 20, a parliamentary committee of Gambia submitted its report in their parliament on the investigation that it had conducted.

It found Maiden Pharma responsible for deaths and said it was culpable and accountable for deaths. It demanded a prosecution against the company but the Indian government responded neither to this report nor the Swiss lab report leaked by The Wire. 

In December, Uzbekistan authorities announced that 18 children had died after consuming a cough syrup manufactured by a Noida-based company whose manufacturing activities have been suspended now, according to the Union health ministry. However, the details of why the CDSCO’s investigations led to the shutdown are yet to emerge.

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India rolled out its booster doses, known as precautionary doses, against COVID-19 in January 2022, after PM Narendra Modi made an announcement to this effect in his TV address on December 25, 2021. The Union minister had claimed in parliament, before the announcement, that any decision on boosters would be taken only on the basis of advice of experts.

However an investigation by The Wire, done through a series of Right to Information applications revealed that no expert body – including the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) that comprises representatives of government and independent expats – had given a go ahead. The government refused to share minutes of any meeting where precautionary doses were formally approved.

Worse, the drug regulator of the country said in reply that it had never approved the doses because no data to that effect was presented to it. 

– Banjot Kaur

Environment

On September 17 this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed eight African cheetahs from Namibia to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India, as part of Project Cheetah. The scheme aims to introduce cheetahs into select grassland habitats in India, areas where the Asiatic cheetah – once native to India but hunted to extinction in the 1950s – once ran wild.

However, Project Cheetah has come under fire repeatedly.

Scientists who have studied large cats and grassland habitats have pointed out that the entire exercise may be unable to achieve its goal – build a viable population of the big cats in India, or protect their grassland habitats – for several reasons. These include inadequate space (cheetahs have huge home range sizes), predation by leopards and the fact that grasslands, many of which are outside protected areas, still continue to be listed as wastelands. India also abstained to vote on reopening ivory trade for the first time at the CITES Conference of Parties in November this year, raising doubts whether Namibia’s claims that it sought India’s help to reverse the ban on the global ivory trade as part of its deal to transfer African cheetahs may indeed be true.

– Aathira Perincherry 





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