Dr Kang leaving is a loss: Covid war needs as much talent as possible, not less

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Published: July 8, 2020 5:30 AM

Dr Kang is vice-chair of the Board of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an association that aims to facilitate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

But, it comes at a time when India has kicked off one of the world’s most ambitious vaccine trials.But, it comes at a time when India has kicked off one of the world’s most ambitious vaccine trials. (Representative image)

India’s war against Covid-19 not only needs warriors, it needs able generals, like Dr Gagandeep Kang who has just resigned as the executive director of the Translational Health Sciences and Technology Institute, a prestigious public health research institute under the ministry of science and technology. Kang, a professor at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, and a vaccine expert widely credited for spearheading the research behind India’s rotavirus vaccine, has said she has resigned for personal reasons. But, it comes at a time when India has kicked off one of the world’s most ambitious vaccine trials. The resignation comes two months after the expert panel set up by ICMR to look into indigenous Covid-19 drugs and vaccines, which she headed, was disbanded; one would have assumed that the government would rope in the best of vaccine experts to oversee a trial that its premier medical research institute has championed. Dr Kang is vice-chair of the Board of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, an association that aims to facilitate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases.

Any government wishing to curb the pandemic will need to fight it methodically and scientifically; not only is the Covid-war turning out to be a long-drawn one, even the various pathologies inflicted by the SARS CoV-2 virus on the body aren’t fully understood yet. India needs experts who are not afraid of challenging the government the way Dr Kang did. In mid-March, Dr Kang, in an interview to The Hindu, had said that India wasn’t testing aggressively enough for community infection at the time; aggressive testing, early in an outbreak, can help ensure the numbers don’t balloon quickly.

She had flagged concerns with the testing strategy at the time, saying that there was no clarity on the risk assessment that the government had reportedly done to firm up the testing strategy. She was one of the first experts to call for involving private sector capacity for testing, something that the government eventually allowed; though, both the Centre and some state governments remain bent on controlling this, through fee caps, conditions on testing asymptomatics, etc. She had even voiced informed concern—as per media reports—on the ICMR’s decision to advise restricted, prophylactic use of hydroxychloroquine. One can, of course, argue that, pending findings of clinical trials for HCQ’s prophylactic effect, ICMR’s study could make the case for policymakers to deploy it in the Covid-19 fight. But, in the long-term, a sounder, more scientifically rigorous approach needs to be taken on all things Covid. And, this will need experts to lead.

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