A deep dive into WHO report on Covid deaths in India and why govt opposes it

A deep dive into WHO report on Covid deaths in India and why govt opposes it

A controversy has erupted over a World Health Organization (WHO) report, released a day ago, claiming that Covid-19 deaths in India were nearly 10 times the figures reported by the government, a statement vehemently rejected by the Centre.

The WHO said the coronavirus pandemic caused nearly 15 million deaths worldwide and nearly a third of the excess deaths globally — 4.74 million — took place in India.

Let’s take a deep dive into understanding the data.

What the WHO has said:

The global health body said it developed an ‘innovative’ and ‘robust’ methodology and availed a ‘completely transparent approach’ to gather data on the Covid deaths across the world. According to the WHO, the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic caused 14.9 million (14,910,195 to be precise) deaths across the world between January 1, 2020, and December 31.

The officially reported global toll due to Covid-19 is 5.5 million, leaving us with 9.4 million excess mortality numbers that were unaccounted for.

The WHO has also said that of the total figures, 68 per cent of all excess deaths came from 10 nations, including India, Russia, Indonesia, United States, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Turkey, Egypt and South Africa. India topped the chart with 4,740,894 unaccounted deaths.

According to the report, early lockdowns were effective in reducing deaths due to Covid-19 as the global excess deaths were in the negative. However, with subsequent brutal pandemic waves in North America, Europe and Asia, the cumulative excess toll surged and by the end of 2021, excess deaths appeared to have soared by another 10 million.

In India, WHO said, Covid deaths started rising significantly towards the second half of 2020. The report said that more than half of India’s excess deaths (2,721,643 to be precise) could be traced to just three months in 2021 – April, May and June – when the country faced one of the worst health crises as hospitals ran out of beds to accommodate patients.

What India said:

India has rejected the WHO report calling it “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable”.

Raising concerns over the report which drew a lot of attention, India said it wrote at least 10 letters to the UN body in the last four-five months asking it for a clarification regarding the methodology and processes used to gather data, but was met with a lukewarm response.

“Even during the member consultation meeting… India raised its flag thrice to speak but was given a chance only towards the end, and even then, they weren’t able to convince us,” an official said.

The Union government said there were four major grounds to dispute the finding:

  1. The government objected to WHO’s modelling approach, which was reserved for Tier II countries like India.
  2. India opposed WHO’s usage of data from 17 states ‘based on some websites and media reports’.
  3. WHO used its own ‘Global Health Estimate 2019’, which by name is an estimate, the government said.
  4. India objected to WHO taking a “one size fits all” approach for a country like India as it did not capture variations in test positivity and severity.

While a controversy rages over the process the WHO adopted, Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi have criticised the Narendra Modi-led central government for “lying” over the issue, while the BJP accused the Congress of simply “doing politics” over Covid deaths.

BJP leader Sambit Patra said the Congress leader has “repeatedly tried to lower Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image since 2014 and has, in the process lowered India’s image”.

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Vijay Singh

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