Health

No community transmission of COVID-19 in India, health ministry repeats

Silent on deadline for Indian COVID-19 vaccine; says human trials yet to take off  

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 09 July 2020
The health ministry said since more than 80% of the COVID-19 outbreaks in India were concentrated in 49 districts, there was no community transmission yet. Photo: Banjot Kaur / CSE
The health ministry said since more than 80% of the COVID-19 outbreaks in India were concentrated in 49 districts, there was no community transmission yet. Photo: Banjot Kaur / CSE
The health ministry said since more than 80% of the COVID-19 outbreaks in India were concentrated in 49 districts, there was no community transmission yet. Photo: Banjot Kaur / CSE

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on July 9, 2020, again claimed that there was no community transmission of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in India, during its first press conference after nearly a month.

“More than 80 per cent cases are concentrated in 49 districts. These are localised outbreaks. So we can’t say that there is community transmission,” Rajesh Bhushan, officer-on-special-duty (OSD) in the MoHFW, said. The World Health Organization had not defined what community transmission was, he added.

However, a look at daily situation reports of the United Nations health body defines community transmission thus:

Experiencing larger outbreaks of local transmission defined through an assessment of factors including, but not limited to: large numbers of cases not linkable to transmission chains; large numbers of cases from sentinel lab surveillance; and / or multiple unrelated clusters in several areas of the country / territory / area

According to this criteria, as many as 85 countries in the world have either reported community transmission earlier or are currently reporting it. 

Bhushan was also asked to clarify about the August 15, 2020, deadline of the Indian vaccine against COVID-19 being available for public use. While he did not say anything about the deadline, he did say that the animal studies (pre-clinical studies) had been done and human trials were yet to start. “We will not compromise on any ethics of clinical trial and as soon as the results of the trials are available, people will get to know about them,” he added. 

Nivedita Gupta, a senior scientist with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), added: “What is the point in having a vaccine after two years when its need is the most now? There, you see a sense of urgency in the government and the ICMR.” 

Convalescent plasma trials are also being undertaken by ICMR. “The trials are still ongoing. In fact, the recruitment of study participants (452) is going on. Therefore, we cannot say anything about the efficacy of this treatment,” Gupta said. The OSD clarified that this was part of the government’s clinical management protocol. But, it was up to the treating physician to decide whether plasma was to be used in the treatment of a COVID-19 patient or not.

Bhushan accepted that the ministry was aware of the fact that drugs being used for COVID-19 treatment were being black-marketed and sold at hugely inflated prices. “Therefore the drug controller general of India had asked the companies concerned to maintain a round-the-clock helpline for patients. Drug inspectors have also been asked to see to it that the hoarding of these drugs is prevented.” 

According to a data presentation made by the MoHFW, eight per cent of India’s population in the age group of 60-74 years and two per cent in the age group above 75 years accounted for more than half (53 per cent) of COVID-19 deaths. Another 32 per cent deaths took place among people aged between 45-59 years. Thus, 85 per cent COVID-19 deaths were registered among people between 45-75 years of age. And, they formed merely 25 per cent of the population.

The ministry official rejected the modelling study of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that said India would have more than 0.2 million COVID-19 cases by next year. “Trajectory of an outbreak is influenced by three factors; how the virus behaves, how the governments behave and how the community behaves. Most of the modelling studies fail to take the last two factors into the account,” he said

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