India’s leaders must respect scientific evidence on Covid-19; not provide false optimism: Lancet editorial

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on September 26, 2020 Published on September 26, 2020

Balram Bhargava, Director General, ICMR   -  VV Krishnan

The Lancet has criticized India’s tackling of the coronavirus outbreak saying that the country has put “a too positive spin” on the situation of the virus.

The editorial, published in the journal Lancet, also expressed its concern over the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) “straying from scientific evidence” approach in order to alleviate fears.

The editorial said: “… Presenting the current situation in India with a too positive spin not only clouds reality but also hampers vital public health initiatives. Perpetuating unrealistic claims or failing to honestly report negative news creates uncertainty among the public and healthcare professionals, discouraging people from taking preventive action or taking public health messages seriously.”

“India has expertise in medicine, public health, research and manufacturing to lead the nation through the Covid-19 pandemic. To capitalise on these attributes, the country’s leaders must respect scientific evidence, expert commentary, and academic freedom, and not provide false optimism,” it added.

The editorial, however, appreciated India for its lockdown measures that were put in place in March this year. However, the withdrawal of such strict measures may have given an unprecedented rise in the number of cases of the coronavirus.

The editorial raised doubts on the quality of data related to coronavirus in India.

ICMR criticism

The editorial questioned the role of the ICMR in handling the crisis. It raised doubts on its recommendations, including insistence on hydroxychloroquine without any substantial proof.

The editorial has also questioned ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava’s controversial push to the procurement of coronavirus vaccine, way before the vaccine completed its trials.

“This pressure to avoid negative news, and to offer reassurance, appears to have been felt by several professional scientific organizations in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been singled out by experts for straying from scientific evidence, appearing at worst politically motivated and at best overly optimistic,” the editorial stated.

The editorial further read: “A letter from the Director-General of the ICMR, Balram Bhargava, said that the ICMR envisaged launching a coronavirus vaccine on August 15 (Indian Independence Day; a deadline considered unrealistic by most medical experts); ICMR has supported treatment with hydroxychloroquine despite insufficient evidence, and news reports claim that data on coronavirus infection was removed from a scientific paper.”

However, in the subsequent paragraphs, the editorial appreciated India’s lockdown saying: “During the lockdown period, tertiary care provision was increased, including access to specialist equipment such as ventilators. Testing numbers also increased quickly, with India being among the first to roll out innovations like pooled testing.”

“India has also been at the forefront of efforts to develop and manufacture a vaccine, both through domestic vaccine candidates and manufacturers such as the Serum Institute of India preparing production capacity for internationally developed vaccine candidates,” it added.

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Published on September 26, 2020
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