Experts urge govt to release data to help develop Covid mitigation plan
An online petition signed by scientists from various fields across the country has demanded that the government collect and release key epidemiological data on the ongoing pandemic to help scientists develop “data-driven mitigation strategies”. The scientists have also demanded that the restrictions put in place under “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) policy be removed, claiming these hamper scientific study for the want of imported scientific equipment and reagents.
“Our inability to adequately manage the spread of infections has, to a large extent, resulted from epidemiological data not being systematically collected and released in a timely manner to the scientific community,” the online petition reads. It has been signed by scientists including the country’s top vaccinologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, biologist Dr Mukund Thattai, and epidemiologist Dr Jacob John.
The scientists have made four major demands: large-scale genomic surveillance of new variants (the INSACOG sequences only 1% of the positive cases), release of granular data on testing and clinical outcome of Covid-19 cases, release of anonymised data on the clinical outcomes of hospitalised patients, and data on the immune response to vaccination in Indian population.
“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 this data. 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,” the petition read.
Data that is available to researchers are often scattered and available in different formats, thus preventing them from drawing meaningful conclusions. “As a computational biologist, the data I have been working with mainly involve the new case numbers and outcomes (recovery/death) over the course of the first and second wave. At the moment, the datasets are fragmented across different states and local authorities,” said Dr Thattai.
He added that granular data – anonymised age, gender, district, date of positive test, date of hospitalisation, date of recovery or death, vaccination status, previous infection status if any – should be made available to all scientists.