Scientists at the National Institute of Virology (NIV) campus, Pune, have reason to smile. The crucial experiments on vaccine development, held up since 2001 for want of rhesus monkeys, are now underway in full swing. Wildlife enthusiasts had “rescued” 50
monkeys from NIV sometime in 2001 citing cruelty to animals. The then Union minister for animal welfare, Maneka Gandhi, who was also chairperson of the Central Committee for Purpose of Control and Supervision on Experimental Animals (CPCSEA), backed these
protests and ultimately, had the CPCSEA ban the sole supplier of monkeys in Nainital. As a result, the NIV found it difficult to continue investigations into major viruses like Hepatitis viruses, Influenza, Measles and Rota. While other research animals like
mice, guinea pigs and rabbits were used, crucial work on vaccine development suffered. In fact, projects in various national institutes across the country had to be put on hold and as a result, various initiatives on vaccine production have fallen behind schedule.
NIV has confirmed that they received the first batch of 20 monkeys in the last week of June. The projects that were pending for over three years were sanctioned by the Animal Welfare Board only last month and the monkeys were dispatched from Uttar Pradesh
by their registered supplier. NIV is one of the premier institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and has investigated over 300 epidemics of suspected viral aetiology in the country.