Over 200 scientists write to PM, request wider access to ICMR’s Covid-19 data

Keeping in mind the ongoing crisis, the scientists emphasized the need for systematic collection and timely release of data on a large-scale genomic surveillance for new variants.

Over 200 scientists who are working closely with the government to combat the coronavirus pandemic have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to facilitate wider access to the granular testing data that ICMR has been collating since the beginning of the pandemic.

As India continues to report record number of covid-19 cases, the current situation demands rapid and systematic data collection, reporting and release, so that data-driven mitigation measures can be implemented.

Keeping in mind the ongoing crisis, the scientists emphasized the need for systematic collection and timely release of data on(a) large-scale genomic surveillance for new variants. Along with this, testing and clinical data for better predictions of the spread of infection, the clinical outcomes of hospitalized patients, and immune response to vaccination in our population is also needed.

“Access to clinical data (with appropriate safeguards for maintaining patient privacy), which is required for analysis and predictions, and for estimation of the requirements for oxygen, medical supplies, ventilators, ICU beds, etc. Many scientists have been trying to get data on comorbidities and blood analysis of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, without success,” the letter signed by eminent scientists like Partha Majumder, L S Shashidhara, Sutirth Dey, Jacob John, Gautam Menon, Satyajit Rath and several others has said.

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 and NITI Aayog to develop new prediction models for India – do not have access to these data, the letter has said.

Public health measures in India should necessarily vary from one local area to another, because there is a great geographical variability in patterns of spread of the infection due to local conditions. This necessitates detailed analysis of large-scale granular epidemiological data available with ICMR, scientists have said.

Indian scientists have come forward to set up testing centres in large numbers, develop new ventilators and testing methods, indigenise and scale up testing kits, generate evidence to repurpose drugs, conduct sero-surveys, create projection models, educate the public, encourage vaccinations and remove vaccine hesitancy, and prevent dissemination of fake news.

Given its size and potential, the Indian scientific community could contribute much more, for which we need your support for rapid and large-scale data-collection and access, particularly large-scale epidemiological data, sequencing of large number of viral genomes and studying immune response to infection and vaccination, scientists said hoping that their appeal would attract the PM’s personal attention so as to advise the appropriate authorities, the letter said.

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