With over 7 lakh cases and more than 20,000 deaths so far, India is deep in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic. Developing an effective cure as well as a vaccine is central to the country’s efforts to contain the virulent virus. India needs all hands on deck in the field of medical research to conduct clinical trials as per globally accepted norms without being weighed down by unreasonable deadlines and unrealistic expectations. At this critical juncture, Gagandeep Kang, a renowned clinical scientist and the first Indian woman to be inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society, London, has quit as the executive director of the Faridabad-based Translational Health Science and Technology Institute — a year before her tenure was scheduled to end. Kang has stated that she wished to return to her family and to Christian Medical College, Vellore, from where she was on sabbatical. Irrespective of the speculation over the whys and wherefores of her decision, there is no gainsaying that she has resigned at a time when the government direly needed the services of leading virologists like her.
The development comes two months after the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) inexplicably disbanded an expert panel, headed by Kang, that had been tasked with Covid vaccine/drug research and was part of the National Covid-19 Task Force. The arbitrariness with which the move was effected had showed the ICMR in a poor light. Last week, the country’s premier body for biomedical research stirred a hornets’ nest by setting a deadline of August 15 for the launch of Covaxin, an indigenous Covid vaccine. Though the ICMR claimed that it only wanted to cut red tape, the undue pressure apparently being put on research professionals to produce ‘quick results’ has not gone down well with the scientific community.
With all eyes on medical institutions and hospitals, the government should lay stress on transparency and accountability. The focus ought to be on fast-tracking administrative approvals, not on taking short cuts at various stages of the scientific process. Providing an environment conducive to quality research can herald a new dawn for Covid-hit India.
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