Senior virologist Shahid Jameel quits as Chief Advisor to Centre's Covid genome surveillance project

Jameel confirmed to this newspaper his decision to step down from the role, but refused to comment further.
Senior virologist Shahid Jameel
Senior virologist Shahid Jameel

NEW DELHI: Senior virologist Shahid Jameel on Sunday resigned as the chair of the scientific advisory group of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a forum set up by the union government in December last year.

The consortium had been set up for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of the Covid in India.

It is not clear why Jameel, who is currently director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University, stepped down as the chief advisor to the forum but sources pointed out that he had been critical of Covid policies by the government.

Most recently, he had written a piece in the New York Times, in which he had said that scientists in India are facing a "stubborn response to evidence-based policy making."

Jameel, formerly the CEO of the Wellcome Trust DBT India Alliance, is known for his research on Hepatitis E virus, confirmed to The New Indian Express, his decision to step down from the role but refused to comment further.

No response was received from Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on a request to comment on the development.

INSACOG was set up by the Centre less than five months ago, mainly to detect genomic variants of the SARS CoV 2, after concerns that the B117 variant, first detected in the UK and found to be more transmissible, may have arrived in the country.

Under the consortium, 10 national laboratories equipped to study virus variants, had been brought together under the aegis of the National Centre for Disease Control.

This forum, however, has been marred with severe fund crunch since the beginning as a result of which the work, it was tasked to do, has progressed at a much lesser speed than projected.

The government had initially said that Rs 115 crore will be allocated for the project for a period of 6 months but no allocation was done and the department of biotechnology under the Union Science Ministry was asked to fund the initiative from its own resources.

Official sources said that the first tranche of money could be released only by March end and the revised estimate for the project was Rs 80 crore.

Scientists associated with many labs in the consortium said that they have been mostly carrying out the genomic surveillance work from their own, limited allocations.

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The New Indian Express