India slams WHO estimate of excess Covid-19 deaths

New Delhi says UN health body ignored government data in calculation which is nearly 10 times official toll

India has rejected World Health Organisation claims that an estimated 4.7 million Indians were killed by the coronavirus pandemic — nearly 10 times the country’s official death toll.

The UN public health body on Thursday released a report on excess deaths due to Covid-19.

This said about 15 million people died in the pandemic globally — either directly or due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society.

It said almost a third of the excess deaths between January 2020 and December 2021 were from India.

New Delhi had expressed its displeasure over the methodology before the release of the report.

India called the WHO’s system of data collection for excess mortality “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable” and strongly contested the validity of the estimate model.

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“India has been consistently objecting to the methodology adopted by WHO to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models,” the Indian Health Ministry said.

“Despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise, WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concern,” the statement said.

India officially reported 481,000 deaths by the end of December 2021. This figure reached 525,000 in May.

The WHO said that for India, it relied on a variety of sources for the registered number of deaths, information either reported directly by the states through official reports and automatic vital registration, or by journalists.

New Delhi said the WHO ignored its inputs in the form of annual birth and death registration for 2020, which were released last week.

It said the official data on all registered deaths in India was authentic and had been communicated to the WHO before the release of its report.

India officially recorded 8,115,882 deaths in 2020, according to the Civil Registration System. It showed around 475,000 deaths as excess, compared to the previous year.

“WHO, for reasons best known to them, conveniently chose to ignore the available data submitted by India and published the excess mortality estimates for which the methodology, source of data, and the outcomes has been consistently questioned by India,” the ministry said.

Many independent studies in the past have also claimed that India’s official death count was an underestimation of actual fatalities ― particularly during the Delta variant second wave between March and May 2021.

The devastating surge almost brought the country’s healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with tens of thousands of people struggling to find hospital beds and medicines.

Updated: May 06, 2022, 1:44 PM
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