New Delhi: After facing much criticism over the delay in publishing results of the first national sero-survey, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) finally made the study public on Thursday evening. The survey estimated that 64 lakh adult Indians had been exposed to the coronavirus infection by as early as May, indicating the scale of infections missed by the country’s health system, despite one of the world’s most stringent national lockdowns that effectively grind a billion people to a halt.
On May 1, the month when the survey began, India had reported 37,336 cases and 1,218 deaths. Even as he admitted the delay in publishing the results of the study, lead author Dr Manoj Murhekhar said the purpose of tracking the trends in the infections at a national level was served. ICMR’s director-general Dr Balram Bhargava had made public the operative parts of the sero-survey results in June second week, however, it took the apex national biomedical research body three more months to come out with a peer-reviewed paper on the issue.
“These findings are more relevant for that time period because we were in the initial stages of the pandemic. The findings were shared with the governments in June to help in decision making and we had also shared the consolidated data with the state governments. This data was largely on the districts we had mapped in the respective states and not trends in specific cities,” said Dr.Murhekar who is the director at Chennai-based National Institute of Epidemiology, an ICMR institute.
Murhekar said that the second round of the sero-survey was underway and the results can be expected by the end of September or early next months. “In the second round of the survey, we will revisit the same 700 clusters and the same villages and districts. This will give us a clear picture of the growth and spread of the infection. In the second round, we are not going to focus much on the categorisation of districts based on case detection and it will be solely focused on the seroprevalence,” Dr Murhekar said.
Senior virologist and former principal of Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr.Jayaprakash Muliyil, who was one of the co-authors and involved in the study design said that the second round of the national survey will be crucial to look at the speed at which the infections have spread.
“We are repeating the survey in the same areas, not same households, is because we want to see the speed at which the infection is moving. The earlier survey has shown that the disease had spread all over the country. Even though the districts were stratified as per case detection, most of them reported seropositivity. Even after all the containment strategies and contact tracing we are only picking only a small fraction of the total number of cases,” Dr Muliyil said.