The dengue patients have been battling a war with the same old weapon for years. But, all thanks to this doctor whose hard work has helped in detecting dengue at the early stage itself. Now, he got the reward for the contribution to healthcare in the form of India’s fourth-highest civilian award. Dr Navin Khanna, India’s top dengue expert, is one of the recipients of Padma Shri 2020.
Dr Khanna completed his PhD from All India Institute of Medical Sciences and soon got a fellowship in the Canada Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. After reaching Canada in 1986, he worked on a new endoplasmic reticulum protein for the next four years. Later he joined the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in 1993. Since then, he has been working on developing various tests that can detect diseases in an uncomplicated manner. One of his notable contributions to the medical field is a low-cost kit which can detect dengue within fifteen minutes on the first day itself. While the result of other dengue tests can take from four days to 2 weeks, people can check the result in a short time with this test. The kit can identify in which stage the dengue infection is and interestingly if one does not have a fever, the kit can tell if the person has had any dengue infection.
Dr Abdul Kalam, who was the Chief of Defence Research and Development Organisation at the time, sent a letter to ICGEB requesting its scientists to come up with a way to detect dengue when there was an outbreak across north India in 2006.
“Several years of research at ICGEB resulted in a prototype concept for this test, which was simple, effective and affordable. The trust and support from our industrial and manufacturing partner, Lalit Mahajan, CEO and owner of J. Mitra & Co Pvt Ltd proved to be a game-changer,” says Dr Navin. Six years later, another dengue outbreak opened the market channels for this test called ‘Dengue Day 1’. The initial cost was 2000. But the demand for kit developed by the team of ICGEB was high, and the cost eventually came down to Rs. 250.
Now, the kits are priced at Rs 140 and 23 of them have been purchased by several state governments in India on yearly contracts with the kit manufacturer, J Mitra.
According to global estimates, ten per cent of the total global dengue burden is from India. “However, better awareness, appropriate vector control methods and early diagnosis are key factors in reducing the number of dengue cases and deaths,” he says.
Dr Navin’s kit contains two devices which can detect all four viruses and can even differentiate between the primary and secondary infection.
His other medical projects include several versions of kits for detection of HIV, HCV, HBV infections.
“Social innovation has to lead to inclusion. Hence, connecting the urban and the rural through innovation is very important. Innovation in all sectors is the need of the hour. India has seen a severe spike in deaths caused due to dengue and keeping this in mind, Dr Khanna’s affordable Dengue test kit is a crucial innovation,” said Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, General of India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, to Hindustan Times.
“Currently, there is no safe and broad-use dengue vaccine or a drug available to fight the dengue menace. However, several dengue vaccines are in late-stage of clinical trials. Our team at ICGEB, in collaboration with Sun Pharma, is also developing a recombinant dengue vaccine candidate, that is entering early stages of clinical development. This activity is supported by the National Biopharma Mission of the Government of India,” shares Dr Navin.

Source: The Better India.