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India has maximum Covid deaths, says WHO; Incorrect, says Indian Government

New Delhi: India has strongly refuted the World Health Organisation’s use of mathematical model to calculate the number of Covid deaths, saying the “figure is totally removed from reality”. Contending that the country has an “extremely robust” system of births and deaths registration, the Union health ministry, in its rebuttal, called the WHO’s system of data collection “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable”.

In a report released today, WHO said between January 2020 and December 2021, there were 4.7 million “excess” Covid deaths in India — the maximum number that’s 10 times the official figures and almost a third of Covid deaths globally. The global figure, according to the report, was 15 million — more than double the official figure of 6 million.

In 2020, India recorded 4,74,806 deaths as excess — meaning over and above normal — under the Civil Registration System.

“India has consistently questioned WHO’s own admission that data in respect of seventeen Indian states was obtained from some websites and media reports and was used in their mathematical model,” the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said.

“This reflects a statistically unsound and scientifically questionable methodology of data collection for making excess mortality projections in case of India,” the statement added. “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 concerns,” the ministry said.

“Throughout the process of dialogue, engagement and communication with WHO, WHO has projected different excess mortality figures for India citing multiple models, which itself raises questions on the validity and robustness of the models used,” the statement read.

Pointing out that data from the Civil Registration System 2020 was shared with WHO for preparation of the excess mortality report, the ministry said, “Despite communicating this data to WHO for supporting their publication, 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”.

In its report WHO said, “Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years”.

“Excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society). Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic,” the report read.

WHO also said they chose the mathematical model as many countries “still lack capacity for reliable mortality surveillance and therefore do not collect and generate the data needed to calculate excess mortality”.