Indian scientists ask Modi to release key epidemiological data

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has often faced criticism for its opaque or delayed data.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration has often faced criticism for its opaque or delayed data.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian scientists and medical researchers are asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow them access to data that could help study, predict and curb the spread of the coronavirus.

While the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has granular data on all residents who have been tested so far, it restricts access, and this database must be opened to outside experts as well, almost 300 scientists from research and teaching institutions requested in an online appeal.

"The ICMR database is inaccessible to anyone outside of the government and perhaps also to many within the government," they wrote.

"While new pandemics can have unpredictable features, our inability to adequately manage the spread of infections has, to a large extent, resulted from epidemiological data not being systematically collected and released in a timely manner to the scientific community."

The signatories include Dr Gagandeep Kang, professor of microbiology at Christian Medical College in Vellore, who confirmed the letter to Bloomberg, and Dr Gautam Menon, professor of biology at Ashoka University.

An e-mail to the ICMR was not immediately answered.

Mr Modi's administration has often faced criticism from economists, scientists and other researchers for its opaque or delayed data.

This includes crime statistics due in 2017 but published in late 2019; a leaked report showing a surge in unemployment that was denied by the government before elections in 2019 but confirmed after the vote; and most recently, lawmakers denied they have data on how many poor migrants were killed as they trudged home when Mr Modi locked down the country with short notice last year.

The request for wider dissemination of the coronavirus-related data gains urgency because India is gripped by a ferocious second wave that risks creating new mutant strains if allowed to spread unchecked.

The scientists also asked Mr Modi to "adequately fund and widen the network of organisations" to collect large-scale surveillance data.

"Without such data collection and timely release, we will not be able to efficiently manage Covid-19," they said.