ICMR's second nationwide sero survey completed; researchers say data from hotspots scrubbed from report

The scrubbed data included relatively high prevalence rates in districts in Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Calcutta.

tech2 News Staff September 23, 2020 13:37:06 IST
ICMR's second nationwide sero survey completed; researchers say data from hotspots scrubbed from report

Health volunteers register participants in an India-Israel Non-Invasive Rapid COVID-19 test camp at a govt hospital in Delhi. AP

After the first round of sero surveys for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has now announced that the second round has also been completed.

Now, news reports have quoted sources involved with the sero survey as saying the results excluded data from ten hotspots, on the ICMR chief's directive. The ten districts in questions were in Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Kolkata, Delhi, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Mumbai, Pune and Surat, as per a report in the Wire.

The Telegraph quotes sources as saying that between 15 and 48 percent of the populations sampled in containment zones were exposed to COVID-19. The highest levels of seropositivity were reportedly in containment zones in Ahmedabad.

The sero survey is part of a larger effort to understand how widespread the prevalence of COVID-19 is in the Indian population. Researchers at ICMR, as of 21 September, were processing the final phase of the results collected, the country's foremost medical research organization said in a Sunday announcement.

"The second round of countrywide sero survey led by ICMR has been successfully completed. The final phase analysis of the survey is now underway and will offer a comparison with the results of the first survey," it said in a tweet.

Results from the sero survey, conducted in ten "dynamic" containment zone cities (where case numbers have seen intermittent changes and fluctuation) have been sent to the respective states to take suitable action, the council added.

To help states make intervention plans, the nationwide survey, states have also conducted their zone/city-specific surveys, the ICMR said.

Data scrubbed from report?

Director-General of the ICMR and secretary of the Department of Health Research Balram Bhargava reportedly asked the researchers to remove the infection prevalence data from ten cities' hotspots that were earlier included in the paper, The Telegraph quoted multiple sources familiar with the events, as saying.

Acting under orders, the researchers scrubbed the prevalence data, which included the relatively high prevalence rates – 36 percent in Dharavi, Mumbai; 48 percent in Ahmedabad; and 30 percent in Calcutta, as per the report.

Bhargava went on to explain to researchers involved that ICMR "did not have approval" to publish the findings made from containment zones. Though a co-author of the paper himself, Bhargava didn't go into any details about who objected to the findings being published, let alone why, the report added.

ICMRs second nationwide sero survey completed researchers say data from hotspots scrubbed from report

Prof Dr Balram Bhargava, director general of the ICMR. Image: ANI/Twitter

COVID-19 sero surveys in India

A sero survey is a population-wide sampling test done over a fixed period of time. It is traditionally done by taking blood samples from a random selection of people across ages and regions, to look for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. The results, which indicate how much of the population is/was likely infected and how many have recovered, can help shape strategic decisions around the pandemic.

Since many patients don't appear to exhibit symptoms and testing is still not widespread enough to conclude not everyone is getting tested for the viral infection, the sero survey data holds special importance.

In the first nationwide sero survey carried out by ICMR, they reported that 0.73 percent of adults in India were exposed to SARS-CoV-2, adding up to some 6.5 million cases by May. The results were published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research on 11 September.

The second sero survey included random samples from volunteers in 71 districts in 21 states. Some 400 people were sampled from each district in non-hotspot areas, and 500 from districts in hotspots.

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