ICMR distances itself from study claiming India's COVID-19 peak in mid-November

Ready for battle: Beds at a banquet hall, converted into isolation wards for COVID-19 patients, in New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: PTI

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has disassociated itself from a modelling study, co-authored by at least two of its in-house scientists and the chairman of a government-appointed National COVID Task Force, and that was reported in several newspapers including The Hindu.

The study that is not yet peer-reviewed but appears on the medxriv pre-print server since June 12, a repository for scientific communication, shows that an eight-week lockdown along with public health measures would still mean a minimum of 40 million infected by the virus.

Different scenarios

The study forecast different scenarios of different levels of lockdown effectiveness: 20%, 40%, 60% and 80% — the latter being the most effective — and cases peaking as late as January and most likely in November. It also calculated that the overall economic health system cost of the pandemic is estimated to be 6.2% of India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is much more than what’s ostensibly allocated. The study isn’t critical and rather commends the government’s actions.

“The findings of our study validate the steps taken by the Indian government to use the lockdown to buy time for preparing the health system,” the authors note. However Rajnikant Srivastava, head of ICMR’s research management, policy planning and coordination cell, said in a message on Monday on an ICMR-administered WhatsApp group that “..News reports attributing this study to ICMR are misleading. This refers to a non- peer reviewed modelling, not carried out by ICMR and does not reflect the official position of ICMR.” He didn’t respond to calls for additional clarification.

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The study, ‘A Model Based Analysis for COVID-19 (coronavirus) Pandemic in India: Implications for Health Systems and Policy for Low- and Middle-Income Countries’, lists as its first author Dr. Shankar Prinja, Additional Professor of Health Economics, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh. It neither mentions it as an official ICMR study nor the agency’s position.

It acknowledges “funding by the ICMR” as well as the “inputs of National COVID Task Force-Operation Research Group members for their inputs on research methods and Dr. Sandip Mandal (Translational Global Health Policy Research Cell, Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi), Dr. Vishnu Vardhan Rao (ICMR-National Institute of Medical Statistics, New Delhi).

‘Not funded by us’

In response to queries by journalists, the ICMR tweeted: “ICMR has not funded this study, the paper was neither peer reviewed nor published. The scientist of ICMR has not contributed to this particular study/manuscript and has also not signed the undertaking.”

Other co-authors listed are Arvind Pandey and Sumit Aggarwal, who mention their affiliations as the ICMR.

Multiple attempts by The Hindu to reach out to Dr. Prinja were unsuccessful. The ICMR, one of whose tasks is to fund research, funds multiple research projects and doing so doesn’t translate into endorsing or disavowing a study’s findings. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely for a professional scientist to mention non-existent benefactors or co-authors of a research manuscript as it constitutes a breach of integrity and ethics.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2021 12:50:39 AM |

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