One year, 364 million Covid-19 tests, and 228 million Covid vaccine doses later, the Indian government is sitting on a veritable mountain of coronavirus-related data. This includes data about vaccinations, testing, infections, reinfections, breakthrough infections breakthrough infections breakthrough infections Covid-19 infections occuring in those already vaccinated against the virus , and genome sequencing. And now, it is mulling ways and means to map this data in order to get ahead of a possible third wave of the virus. 

On 24 May, the government carved out the ‘Empowered Health and S&T Data Portal Group’ to carry out this job. The nine-member committee is set to collate feedback from the community of researchers, identify data available with different ministries, and set up a web portal to store and disseminate it. The Ken has exclusively accessed a copy of the notification. 

The committee’s task, however, is not straightforward. As it stands, the data currently looks more like a country-wide jigsaw puzzle, with pieces scattered across different government departments and ministries. So, before anyone can draw conclusions and understand how fast and how much the virus is mutating, all the data first needs to be integrated in order to present the full picture. 

That’s a herculean task, because the government is reluctant to share data or engage in analytic exercises, even with internal groups and agencies. And even if agencies are willing, technical glitches get in the way. 

For instance, When vaccinations began in January, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) believed testing data testing data The Ken The unlearnt lessons from a year of Covid testing Read more would eventually be integrated with that of vaccination data from vaccine registration platform built by National Health Authority –  CoWIN. So it didn’t check patients’ vaccination status while collecting test samples. When they tried integrating the data, however, the APIs APIs Application Programming Interface Application Programming Interface is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. They're very specific and designed for software to pull and push information in a two-way process  couldn’t talk to each other—the platforms used by the two agencies were incompatible. 

Left without a choice, ICMR began capturing the vaccination status of those being tested for Covid-19 from 8 April. But precious insight about breakthrough infections from the first three months of vaccinations remains lost. Officials from one of the key agencies told The Ken that ICMR is struggling with data quality issues.

AUTHOR

Maitri Porecha

Maitri writes about everything health for The Ken. For close to 10 years now, she has navigated hospital corridors in her search for a good story. In a past life, when she was not a journalist, she used to teach French at her neighbourhood school. Also an avid fan of forensics, she is always up for decoding mysteries in her free time.

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