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Scientists appeal to PM to make Covid data public

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on April 30, 2021

They said it is critically important to ascertain the medical needs of the country in fighting the pandemic

A section of scientists in the country, on Thursday, impressed upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the need to make public the Covid-19 data that is being gathered by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) since last year. They said a deep dive into this data by experts is critically important to ascertain the medical needs of the country in fighting the pandemic.

In an open appeal to Modi, the scientists said the community needs to have a wider access to the granular testing data that ICMR has been collating since the beginning of the pandemic. “The ICMR database is inaccessible to anyone outside of the government and perhaps also to many within the government. Most scientists – including several identified by DST (Department of Science and Technology) and NITI Aayog to develop new prediction models for India – do not have access to these data,” said the scientists who signed the appeal.

A number of Indian scientists, who have been directly and indirectly working towards enhancing our understanding of the novel coronavirus, are signatories to the appeal. They include noted vaccine scientist Gagandeep Kang, renowned clinical virologist T Jacob John, Jyotsana Dhawan, and human geneticist and former president of Indian Academy of Science, Partha Majumder. The list also includes several Indian scientists, including many coveted Bhatnagar Prize winners.

They said access to clinical data (with appropriate safeguards for maintaining patient privacy) is required for analysis and predictions, and for estimating the requirements for oxygen, medical supplies, ventilators, ICU beds. Many scientists have been trying to get data on co-morbidities and blood analysis of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, without any success, they said.

Detailed analysis

The scientists pointed out that only detailed analysis of large-scale granular epidemiologist data available with ICMR can help understand the geographical variability in patterns of spread of the infection due to local conditions.

They also urged the government to provide sufficient funds and widen the network of organisations engaged in collecting large-scale surveillance data-based genome sequencing of the coronavirus and also appealed for putting this data in public domain. The Indian SARS-CoV2 Consortium on Genomics of 10 labs, set up for genomic surveillance of various variants of concern, has so far sequenced around 20,000 samples collected from patients in the country.

The scientists also used this opportunity to appraise the Prime Minister that the “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” policy has made importing of scientific equipment and reagents an extremely tedious and time-consuming process, requiring approval at the level of the Secretaries of Ministries or Departments.

“This has reduced our ability to scale up testing by developing new testing platforms and has impaired our ability to sequence viral genomes for surveillance rapidly and accurately, they said, adding that such restrictions will only impede the scientific community’s ability to deal with Cvid-19 and requested for the withdrawal of these restrictions.

Published on April 29, 2021

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