ICMR COVID-19 seroprevalence data differs significantly and may be of no use?

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“This doesn’t tell us about the current situation and that’s the reason why it may not be really beneficial at making policy-level decisions. However, for academic purposes, if anyone wants to study the pandemic trajectory in India some time later, it will be of help,” said Dr Jugal Kishore, head, community medicine, Safdarjung Hospital.

According to data, nearly one in 15 (6.6%) above 10 years of age in the country was exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19), till August. ICMR’s first countrywide sero survey that was conducted between May 11 and June 4 showed overall infection prevalence to be 0.73%. The second survey was conducted during August 17 and September 22, in the same 700 villages and wards from 70 districts in 21 States that were covered in the first survey. Blood samples were collected from 29,082 individuals. All other parameters about the two surveys have been the same except for the age bracket— in the first phase population selected was 18 years and above, and in the second phase samples were included from 10 years and above. Urban slum (15.6%) and non-slum (8.2%) areas had higher Sars-Cov-2 infection prevalence than that of rural areas (4.4%), and prevalence in adults (above 18 years of age) was also higher at 7.1%, the data shows.

According to thewire news agency, researchers who conducted and analysed results of India’s first national seroprevalence survey, to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population in May 2020, have alleged that they were not allowed to include data from disease hotspots in 10 cities in the paper they published describing the survey.

Sources told The Telegraph that the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava had asked researchers to remove the data – collected between May 11 and June 4 – because ICMR did not have the requisite approvals to publicise it. The paper was published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research this month. “We were told: remove the hotspots data or don’t publish,” one co-author told The Telegraph, a statement that two others reportedly corroborated.

On June 12, Bhargava had announced the survey’s preliminary results in a press conference, during which he said ICMR researchers had tested samples from 28,000 individuals in 83 districts. However, the published paper mentioned only 71 districts. It wasn’t clear which set of respondents had been left out of the final results, why, and how their exclusion had skewed the data.

D.C.S. Reddy, another coauthor of the paper and a community medicine specialist, said “containment-zone data from the city hotspots” was important “to understand the dynamics of transmission in areas with large infections,” The Telegraph quoted him as saying. “As members of the surveillance group, we cannot say why the data was held back. The council can answer that.”

“The pursuit of science is to look for the truth – suppressing research is illogical,” Jayaprakash Muliyil, a co-author and a member of the council’s epidemiology and surveillance group for COVID-19, told The Telegraph.

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