Hit hard by COVID-19 second wave, Karnataka is introducing a sewage surveillance system across 45 wards of the 198 wards on a pilot basis to track the deadly mutant virus at an early stage, even among asymptomatic individuals. Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development and BBMP administrator, Rakesh Singh said that the system will cover over 75 percent of the city's nine million population by generating over 90 data points per week signalling the emerging COVID-19 clusters or signalling a COVID-19 cluster's exit from an area.
"We are happy to be the first in India to launch this platform," he tweeted. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Skoll Foundation-supported COVID-19 Action Collab (CAC), an India-wide collaborative of over 300 organisations and networks working together to provide COVID-19 relief and recovery services to the country's most vulnerable communities, will be joining hands with the Bengaluru Civic Agencies like Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to carry out this experiment.
"Over the last year, scientists around the world have discovered that waste-water testing can serve as a cost-effective early warning system, often predicting an increase in COVID-19 before the number of official cases has risen," the statement released by Urban Development stated.
It also clarified that although sewage testing is not a replacement for clinical testing and citizens are advised to continue following safety guidelines, this surveillance system is a cost-effective tool that can be used not only for COVID-19, but in the future, it can also track other pathogens with pandemic potential and measure antimicrobial resistance in the population.
"While there have been many experiments and studies on finding traces of the COVID-19 virus in sewage, Bengaluru will be joining the Netherlands, Finland, and Israel in path-breaking surveillance system like this with experts from all over the world supporting the initiative," said Dr Angela Chaudhuri, Health Lead of CAC.
The Precision Health Platform in Bengaluru, the first of its kind in Asia, will test sewage from both sewerage and non-sewerage waste water to identify clusters of new infections.
"Early identification of clusters can help guide the COVID-19 response and give policymakers the information they need to better allocate limited pandemic resources," the statement explained.
The CAC said it will be supporting Karnataka by providing training for sanitation workers and lab technicians on collecting and transporting sewage samples to labs for testing, and analysing and safely disposing of them.
"The US and India have worked closely together to provide life-saving treatments, disseminate public health messages to local communities; strengthen case-finding and surveillance and support innovative solutions to bolster the emergency response and preparedness," said Sangita Patel, Director USAID, India Health Office.
The Precision Public Health Surveillance approach developed by the CAC and the collaborative consists of organizations and networks working together to support these communities during the period of crisis and enable them to secure their future.
"The CAC aims to achieve synergy among its partners at multiple levels in order to accelerate impact, in keeping with the needs of these communities," the statement said.