Experts rap ICMR survey, claim community spread in pockets
‘Govt shows obstinacy, should admit it so that people don’t get complacent’
A day after India’s Covid-19 tally breached the three-lakh mark, leading health experts on Saturday slammed the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for its serosurvey findings that there was no community transmission of the virus, saying it was not reflective of the current situation and the Government was showing “obstinacy” in accepting the truth.
Emphasising that community transmission was on in many parts of the country, the experts from the field of virology, public health and medicine asked the Government to admit it so that people don’t get complacent.
The criticism against the Government came days after ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava at a media briefing said that India is definitely not in the community transmission stage of Covid-19 spread while releasing the findings of the survey.
India’s first serosurvey to monitor the trend of coronavirus infection transmission found that 0.73 per cent of the 26,400 people surveyed from about 65 districts were exposed to coronavirus.
Former AIIMS director Dr MC Mishra said there is no doubt that there has been community transmission in several parts of the country.
“With the mass exodus and the country unlocking, it has become more rapid and the disease has reached areas where there were no cases. It is high time the Government comes to fore and acknowledges it so that people become more alert and do not become complacent,” Mishra told news agency PTI.
Talking about the ICMR serosurvey, he said the sample size of around 26,400 people is quite inadequate to capture the scale of the spread of the infection, especially keeping in mind the large population and the diversity of the country.
Leading virologist Shahid Jameel said India reached the community transmission stage a long time ago.
“It’s just that the health authorities are not admitting it. Even ICMR’s own study of SARI (severe acute respiratory illness) showed that about 40 per cent of those who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 did not have any history of overseas travel or contact to a known case. If this is not community transmission, what is,” said Jameel.
CEO of Wellcome Trust/Department of Biotechnology’s India Alliance and best known for his extensive research in Hepatitis E virus and HIV, Jameel said an important point to consider is the sensitivity and specificity of the test that ICMR has not revealed, and even a one per cent change would make a big difference in the results in areas of low prevalence.
On May 25, three medical professional associations too had submitted a joint statement to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, criticising the Government’s handling of the novel coronavirus epidemic and making recommendations for the future.
Notably, among the signatories were Dr DCS Reddy, former professor at the Institute of Medical Sciences at BHU. He was appointed as the head of the research group on epidemiology and surveillance constituted by the Indian Government’s National Task Force for Covid-19 on April 6. Another member of the research group, Dr Shashi Kant, professor and head of the Centre for Community Medicine at AIIMS, New Delhi, has also signed the statement wherein they said that the country is already witnessing community transmission.
“It is unrealistic to expect that Covid-19 pandemic can be eliminated at this stage given that community transmission is already well-established across large sections or sub-populations in the country,” said the report.
The experts pointed out that had the migrant persons been allowed to go home at the beginning of the epidemic when the disease spread was very low, the current situation (of huge spurt in cases) could have been avoided.
The returning migrants are now taking infection to each and every corner of the country; mostly to rural and peri-urban areas, in districts with relatively weak public health systems (including clinical care), said the experts.
Sunday, 14 June 2020 | PNS | New Delhi
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