Coronavirus: Lancet warns Indian government against displaying false optimism
On Friday, The Lancet editorial raised concerns about Indian government misleading its people by promoting false optimistic regarding the current state of coronavirus crisis in the country. The medical journal said that Indian leaders should not ignore or snub scientific evidences especially when the country needs it to deal with rising infection cases. The editorial also emphasised how not reporting the true state of the pandemic might make people take the ongoing health crisis very lightly.
It said, “India has the expertise in medicine, public health, research, and manufacturing to lead the nation through the Covid-19 pandemic. To capitalise on these attributes, the country’s leaders must respect scientific evidence, expert commentary, and academic freedom, and not provide false optimism.” “Perpetuating unrealistic claims or failing to honestly report negative news creates uncertainty among the public and health-care professionals, discouraging people from taking preventive action or taking public health messages seriously,” it added.
Besides irresponsible handling and dishonest reporting, the journal also questioned the role of country’s premier medical research organisation, ICMR, especially with regard to its promotion of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria and rheumatoid arthritis drug, as a potential preventive cure for the deadly contagion.The editorial also stressed on ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava’s unreasonable pressure towards the release of a Covid-19 vaccine by 15 August, much before its trials had fully completed its due course. The journal condemned Bhargava for sending letter to 12 hospitals and medical institutions in July, pushing them to speedily gain all approvals for the clinical trials of India’s vaccine candidate Covaxin.
“This pressure to avoid negative news, and to offer reassurance, appears to have been felt by several professional scientific organisations in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has been singled out by experts for straying from scientific evidence, appearing at worst politically motivated and at best overly optimistic,” the editorial said.
“A letter from the Director General of the ICMR, Balram Bhargava, said that the ICMR envisaged launching a coronavirus vaccine on Aug 15 (Indian Independence Day; a deadline considered unrealistic by most medical experts); ICMR has supported treatment with hydroxychloroquine despite insufficient evidence; and news reports claim that data on coronavirus infection were removed from a scientific paper,” read the editorial.
Despite criticism over numerous loopholes regarding crisis management in the country, journal did commend India’s quick response to the virus by announcing early lockdown in 25 March. “The country has responded well in many regards, especially for such a large and diverse nation,” it said. “India instigated a national lockdown in March, which was praised by WHO [World Health Organization].” Over all the journal was critical of the country’s gradual laid-back approach towards the handling of the pandemic and raised serious concerns about lack of data, quality of the available data and transparency issues especially pertaining to virus’ mortality rate. “Transparency of the data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, especially those underpinning the case fatality rate, has also been questioned, as detailed in a recent World Report,” it said. “The Indian Government reports a case fatality rate of 1.8%, much lower than the reported rate in other countries, but it is difficult to know if the numbers are comparable.”