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Important to make policy rooted in evidence: Dr Shahid Jameel

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Experts present findings on sero surveys and COVID-19 epidemiology at symposium by Ashoka University and The George Institute for Global Health

India needs a comprehensive health metrics to have a solid foundation for formulating policies on healthcare and conducting data-driven research in this field, Prof. L.S. Shashidhara, Professor and Dean (Research), Ashoka University said at a symposium on ‘Evidence, Decision Making and Policy for COVID-19 in India’, organised by Ashoka University and The George Institute of Global Health. The symposium was organised by Ashoka’s Science Policy Cell under the Office of Research in collaboration with The George Institute for Global Health.

In his welcome remarks, Prof. Shashidhara said, “Public health is an important topic from the socio-economic angle and also from the point of view of evidence, data analysis and policy making in this sphere as it is the foundation on which suitable health policies and a health metrics could be formulated. Considering that is an important subject, Ashoka University, being a leading liberal arts University is also exploring how effectively can this field be made a part of its educational programmes for its students, research programmes for its faculty”,

Reflecting the need to factor in the increased number of antigen testing that has only 50 per cent sensitivity while formulating policy in India, Dr. Shahid Jameel, Director at Ashoka University’s Trivedi School of Biosciences, in his special remarks, said “COVID-19 is as good as any other time to look at evidence and formulate policy based on evidence. We have seen a lot of myths and knee jerk reactions during COVID-19. The world has crossed the 50 million mark of confirmed infections and 1.2 million deaths. Those who are saying that numbers in India are going down are unfortunately not talking about how the testing is going on. India is now increasingly doing antigen testing. In Delhi, for example, 77 per cent of testing in based on antigen tests which have only 50 per cent sensitivity compared to PCR tests which has 80 per cent sensitivity. These are matters to be taken into consideration for policy formulation. It is really important to make policy which is rooted in evidence.”

Distinguished policy experts and academicians from renowned government and academic institutions were invited to discuss the role of research evidence in decision – making on public health and its use in policy making, concentrating on the growing challenges owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Tarun Bhatnagar, Scientist E at ICMR- National Institute of Epidemiology in Chennai, presented the findings from the national sero-survey which he and his team from ICMR conducted over the prevalence of SARS-COV-2 infection in India; Prof. Brian Wahl, Epidemiologist and Faculty Member, Department of International Health, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shared lessons and findings of his study carried out on epidemiology and transmission dynamics of COVID-19 in Indian States ; Dr. Priscilla Rupali, Professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases and Deputy Chair of Hospital Infection Control, Christian Medical College spoke on the topic ‘Evidence Synthesis on Clinical Management of COVID-19 and finally Dr. Rajani Ved, Public Health Practitioner and Ex-Executive Director, National Health Systems Resource Center, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, shared her thoughts on the topic, ‘What constitutes evidence during a public health crisis? Challenges for Policy and Programmes.’

Prof. Gautam Menon, Professor of Physics and Biology, Ashoka University and Dr. Soumyadeep Bhaumik, Research Fellow (Global Impact), The George Institute for Global Health co-chaired the session. The symposium was the first of a planned series of symposia on public health and policy in India.

Dr Ved said, “We need to bridge the gap between researchers, practitioners and policy makers. There is a need of nuancing of research findings to meet immediate needs. Reducing silos between public health and health research agencies need to be prioritised. Matching the pace of research with the needs of policy makers; use the best available, but continue to look for better ones. The onus here is on the researchers. Engagement with civil society networks need to be boosted. Above all, decisions need to be guided by ethical underpinning and a concern for the vulnerable.”

Speaking on the relevance of events such as the symposium on evidence based decision making for COVID-19, Prof. Vivekananda Jha, Executive Director, The George Institute for Global health said, “We require a cool headed dissection of the data that is out there and the expertise that is there. We need not just a response but a way you communicate that response.”

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