A significant data project for systematic, long-term engagement with the COVID-19 pandemic awaits clearance from the ethics committee of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). In collaboration with the health ministry, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and 15 institutions of national importance, the ICMR will pool a national clinical registry covering all COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalised. The institutions will mentor other clinical organisations involved in the response to the pandemic, to widen the footprint of the database. Both in the short and long term, the utility of a common repository for clinical data cannot be underestimated.
The biggest challenge that the pandemic has presented to health professionals and policymakers is a lack of standardised information. Amidst an infodemic, the world wasted valuable time in the pursuit of off-label miracle cures, ranging from a malaria drug to a vermifuge, on the basis of questionable or indifferent reports. Many reported results that would have been treated as anecdotal, were the world not in crisis mode. Even now, the long-term effects of the novel coronavirus remain in the realm of conjecture. Physicians are repeatedly calling for caution, as they report numerous yet anecdotal cases of recovered patients who return months after recovery with damage to organs not ordinarily affected by respiratory viruses, and vascular effects, including strokes. A unified database is essential for tracking patients over the long term, for their own safety, to propagate successful interventions globally, and to examine how the virus may interact with other factors, like genetic makeup, comorbidities, location, climate and diet.
In the short term, a database would help to answer critical questions. What is the phone number of the nearest plasma donor? Which patients can be helped immediately by a newly discovered intervention? But to be completely useful, such a database should engage patients. They should be able to report changes in their condition directly to the database in an organised, delimited manner, automatically flagging the need for intervention to the authorities, and points of interest to researchers.
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