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What is the ICMR: Decoding its role in the pandemic6 min read

June 6, 2021 4 min read

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What is the ICMR: Decoding its role in the pandemic6 min read

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Credit: Wikipedia

Have you wondered who exactly is in charge of handling the Covid-19 pandemic in India? Who is making all the decisions and what has their specific role been in controlling the virus spread? Yes, we know that it’s the government that takes decisions regarding lockdowns and restrictions, but there must be a group of experts that support, through research, the government in these decisions, right? 

The answer is yes, and this government body is the Indian Council for Medical Research or the ICMR. 

What is the ICMR?

It is the primary or foremost agency for the development and encouragement of medical research in India, and is funded by the government. Headquartered in New Delhi, the ICMR functions through the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 

Though the headquarters are in the capital, there are a total of 26 ICRM institutes in the country. These focus on researching on topics such as leprosy, tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, HIV, medical statistics, reproductive health, nutrition and much more. The ICMR also has six regional centres to tackle issues based on that particular area. 

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

The ICMR has been publishing the Indian Journal of Medical Research (IJMR) since 1913.

How did it come about? 

This agency dates way back. In 1911, the Indian government set up the Indian Research Fund Association (IRFA). The aim of this body was to sponsor and coordinate medical research in the country. After Independence, there were many changes made to the IRFA in terms of its functioning and activities. Then, it was renamed the ICMR in 1949, and its functions were expanded quite a lot. 

Who is in charge? 

Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research. Credit: PTI

The council is presided over, or overseen, by the Union Health Minister – Dr Harsh Vardhan. For all scientific and technical matters, the council has a scientific advisory board comprising prominent experts across various disciplines, that evaluate and monitor different research activities of the ICMR. 

What is the ICRM’s mission: 

  • Translating work into practice to boost people’s health.
  • The development, management and distribution of information.
  • To concentrate on work on health problems among vulnerable and deprived parts of the community.
  • Adopting and promoting the use of modern biology tools to tackle country health issues.
  • Promote creativity in diagnostics, care, vaccinations and other disease prevention methods.

What is it’s role in tackling Covid?

Healthworkers in India taking a break from duty. Credit: Reuters

The ICMR has played a huge in the handling of the pandemic from the very beginning. It brought the country’s best minds together to come up with strategies to form a Covid-19 task force at the Centre, which it is also the convenor of. This task force has medical professionals and bureaucrats on it, along with the director-general of the ICRM Balram Bhargava.

For starters, it began with testing for Covid-19. Making the RT-PCR test common for all was ICMR’s decision, and with two-thirds of all labs under it, the process of conducting tests was to be streamlined to reach all corners of the country. However, the ICMR, which is not an agency that’s supposed to make any decisions as it’s not a statutory nor regulatory, started getting involved in many other aspects of pandemic-handling. This was frowned upon by many experts, who have, since last year, criticised the ICMR’s role in the pandemic. 

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

A statutory body can enact legislations or create laws in a particular area. A regulatory body can implement regulations and monitor activity in a particular region. 

The ICMR slowly became in charge of the different rules and do’s and don’ts for the entire nation. Different early treatment methods, such as plasma therapy which was being researched before the vaccines were rolled-out, were being suggested by the ICMR. 

Vaccines and treatment drugs, however, are in the hands of the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). 

Criticism for ICMR’s Covid handling

Some experts say that the first ICMR committee formed to tackle the virus didn’t have the right kind of specialists on it. They also say that the DGCI being in charge of vaccines and treatment is a good thing. 

They say that the testing and setting up of labs across the country is in ICMR’s purview, but it definitely wasn’t supposed to be deciding the treatment criteria or lay down the isolation rules and vaccination plans.

The Lancet critiques ICMR

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

The Lancet is a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal. It is among the world’s oldest and best-known general medical journals. It was founded in 1823 by Thomas Wakley, an English surgeon who named it after the surgical instrument called a lancet.

The Lancet journal in September last year critiqued the ICMR’s handling of Covid-19 too.

“This pressure to avoid negative news, and to offer reassurance, appears to have been felt by several professional scientific organisations in India. The ICMR has been singled out by experts for straying from scientific evidence, appearing at worst politically motivated and at best overly optimistic,” The Lancet wrote.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

ICMR’s American counterpart

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the national public health agency of the country. It is a federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services, and is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.

Sources: Indian Express, Firstpost, The Wire, Wikipedia