Dr G. Satheesh Reddy was made member of an empowered working group set up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to manage the Covid-19 crisis. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Reddy shared his experience and the challenges faced:
Q/ How has the DRDO contributed as a Covid-19 warrior?
A/ The DRDO has been tracking the spread of Covid-19 ever since the media reported its devastating impact in China. We have been gearing up with technologies to support the national mission and have been on alert since the first case. When the number of cases in India crossed 30, the DRDO began to accelerate and enhance products and countermeasures to combat the spread. Efforts were focused on creating required solutions for critical medical requirements, within the given constraints.
Q/ The DRDO has gone from developing armaments to health care products. How are you managing this?
A/ For the last ten days, I have been constantly on call with labs all over the country. I have pulled in my scientists to work on simple things like personnel protective equipment (PPE). If we can develop missiles or other high-end technology, then our scientific brains should not have any problem finding a solution to these medical problems. Our defence scientists have been working day and night to rise to the occasion.
Q/ Is it true that the focus of the DRDO is to now provide affordable solutions?
A/ As a nation we were not [ready for this]. Now, the demand of these health care items is huge. The DRDO is aiming to make things available in [large] quantities, keeping in mind the affordability. So, we have managed to develop some new items while some spinoff technology was also being [introduced]. The key focus is to make the medical equipment cheap.
Q/ How many DRDO laboratories are working on this?
A/ I have asked every DRDO scientist and laboratory to come up with contributions. More than 15 DRDO laboratories with a dedicated force of around 8,000 scientists and technical staff will work on these solutions. We are ready with the technology and are working with the industry for volume production of critical supplies. The Institute for System Studies and Analysis, Delhi, has developed METRICS (Mathematical Estimation for Tracking Infections of Covid-19 Spread in India) to generate a daily estimation report.
Q/ The DRDO has come up with critical technology like the multi-patient ventilator. Tell us about it.
A/ Ventilators were developed by the DRDO a few years ago, and the technology was transferred to the industry. Now, industries have tied up with defence PSU Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) to manufacture it in large numbers. Our scientists are working closely with BEL to provide all assistance, including developing some critical equipment not available in the open market.
Most importantly, our multi-patient ventilator kits have been successfully tested at Apollo hospital and ESIC hospital in Hyderabad. It is being improved now to regulate pressure for each patient, and they are putting UV filters on each line to avoid contamination.
Q/ How are private industries collaborating with the DRDO?
A/ The role of the private industry is very encouraging so far. More than 50 [organisations] have come forward to work with the DRDO. We are sharing technology with them at zero cost for mass production. A high-ranking team of DRDO scientists are working closely with these industries. We expect more products to be rolled out in the coming days in partnership with them.