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India contests WHO’s estimates of 47 lakh excess Covid deaths

The share of India is staggeringly high and is estimated at around one-third of the global toll (according to a WHO report) while it's 10 times more than the official figure reported back in the country.

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New Delhi: India reported 47 lakh excess deaths between 2020 and 2021, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report on the global death toll of the Covid-19 pandemic revealed.

According to the latest report which was released on Thursday, the WHO estimated at least 1.5 crore people across the world died as a direct or indirect result of Covid-19 between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021.

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The share of India is staggeringly high and is estimated at around one-third of the global toll (according to a WHO report) while it’s 10 times more than the official figure reported back in the country.

During the period, for which India was estimated by WHO as having recorded 47 lakh deaths due to Covid-19, directly or indirectly, the country has recorded an official toll of around 520,000 deaths.

At the same time, the global official toll stood at more than 50 lakh during the period of WHO’s investigation. However, India has “strongly” objected to the WHO’s estimate calling it “questionable”.

The Government of India has contested the use of the mathematical model to calculate the number of Covid deaths by the WHO while it also stated that 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”.

“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 Union 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 the 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.

The Union Ministry pointed out that data from the Civil Registration System 2020 was shared with WHO for preparation of the excess Covid mortality “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 have been consistently questioned by India,” it said.

According to WHO, 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. 

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