India’s Covid toll 47 lakh, says WHO; govt slams report – ET HealthWorld


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NEW DELHI: India and the World Health Organization are at loggerheads over the latter’s new estimates of 47 lakh excess deaths in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 — an assessment that has been strongly contested by the government which cited flawed methodology, inaccurate sourcing of data, inconsistencies in criteria and use of assumption by the UN health agency for projections.

WHO estimates are nearly 10 times higher than the country’s official count of 4.84 lakh Covid-19 fatalities in these two years. Globally, more than twice as many people have died as a result of Covid-19 as the official data shows, according to a new WHO report which pegged 14.9 million excess deaths (149,00,000)associated with Covid-19 by the end of 2021. The numbers reported by countries added up to 6 million (60 lakh).

In a firm criticism of the WHO report, the government raised concerns over use of mathematical models by the UN agency despite availability of authentic data. It has also raised concerns over sourcing of data, selection of states for extrapolation and lack of transparency by the UN agency.

India’s Covid toll 47 lakh, says WHO; govt slams report

The government said WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns and despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise.

“India had informed WHO that in view of the availability of authentic data published through Civil Registration System (CRS) by Registrar General of India (RGI), mathematical models should not be used for projecting excess mortality numbers for India,” the government said.

The world health body has calculated excess mortality as the difference between 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).

“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. This reflects a statistically unsound and scientifically questionable methodology of data collection for making excess mortality projections in case of India,” the government said questioning the validity and robustness of the models used and methodology of data collection.

India also pointed out inconsistencies in the criteria and assumption used by WHO to classify countries into Tier I and II as well as questioned the very basis for placing India among Tier II countries, for which a mathematical modelling estimate is used.

The government now plans to raise the issue at the World Health Assembly and other multilateral bodies, a senior official said.

WHO maintains that it has held a series of consultations with the government and also responded to questions related to methodology and data collection. It also said it had not yet fully examined new data provided by India this week and estimates will be updated as new data becomes available.

“We really welcome colleagues in India sharing with us the data that was released two days ago for 2020…we will continue to have consultations and address the concerns that India has and hopefully we can find a mutually acceptable resolution. WHO’s intent is to make sure every country is optimally supported and we want every country to have robust data and health information systems that they can use to improve the performance of policies and care to their populations,” said Samira Asma, WHO assistant director general for data, analytics and delivery for impact.

“We have to recognise that the estimates are an approximation of reality. As you also heard there is variability in data availability and it has become very obvious during the entire course of the pandemic. There have been data that is missing or unknown, there have been delays in reporting and all of us were caught unprepared. When we report data for all countries, it is in every country’s interest to make sure that the data is represented accurately and that is why WHO engages with all member-states and has a very open, transparent consultation when we produce estimates,” she added.

WHO maintained its “methodology is rigorous” and asked countries to invest in solid data and health information systems.

“As new data becomes available, the estimates will be updated. We are still midst of the pandemic and we are genuinely interested to make sure that every country is comfortable, confident with the estimates that WHO is producing,” Asma said.





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