The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is spearheading the country’s war against COVID-19, is an institution of very eminent researchers but they were never the ones who made of rules or laid down the standard operating procedures (SOPs). As the country reels under the effect of the deadly second wave of coronavirus, the question arises if handing over of the huge responsibility of COVID management of 134+ crore people to a group of researchers was the biggest blunder the country could make. What is the solution now, with numbers of death and infection spiralling upwards?
Initially, it all began with testing for COVID-19. Standardising the RT-PCR test was ICMR's call and it was trusted as they are the best in lab handling. But one after the other, framing SOPs, protocols, tabling the do's and don'ts for the entire nation, these things were decided by the ICMR. Even treatment methods like plasma therapy was suggested by them.
Thankfully, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) was in charge of approving the COVID-19 vaccines and treatment drugs, say epidemiologists. The initial committee framed by the government had cardiologists, pediatricians and other specialists but virologists and field qualified epidemiologists who were supposed to be at the forefront were almost invisible in decision making.
The ICMR carries out various researches independently and also funds researches in various strata. So, with regard to testing and setting up efficient labs across the country, the ICMR stepping up was still acceptable. But they definitely weren't supposed to be the ones to decide the treatment criteria or lay down the isolation rules and vaccination plans, opine experts.
This probably also explains why there was a promise to the nation that a single RNA strand of coronavirus wouldn't be present by May 16 last year and we, the people, are still struggling to breathe without oxygen support. The situation in states weren't different. The task force committees had eminent cardiologists which encouraged debate amongst medical fraternity as to why there were no epidemiologists on the forefront. Later on, there were technical advisory committees that ‘rectified’ the arrangement and the epidemiologists led the team with every specialist on board that gave a rather wider scope of coverage in pandemic management.
The situation in India continues to be grim till this day. The initial mistake of handing over the reigns of a pandemic into wrong hands had done much damage. Now , we are spending more time and energy trying to rectify earlier mistakes along with struggles to tackle the new ones. Since the magnitude of the pandemic was larger than expected and it was new for everyone, mistakes have happened, says Dr Sunil Kumar D R, Specialist in Public Health Research. “Bypassing expertise didn't do any good, it only slowed down the whole management and led us downwards costing several lives. Better norms and regulations can tackle virus and population efficiently and it is always better late than never,” he adds.