Tuesday, 28 June, 2022
HomeHealthIndian govt ‘strongly contests’ WHO’s estimates of Covid deaths, questions its model

Indian govt ‘strongly contests’ WHO’s estimates of Covid deaths, questions its model

In series of letters, govt has questioned methodology of calculation and WHO’s decision to rely on 18 states’ data to reach an estimate 'several times higher' than official figure.

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New Delhi: The government of India has strongly contested estimates of the country’s Covid deaths by the World Health Organization (WHO), as it doesn’t agree with the model used by the international public health body.

In a series of letters, the government has questioned the methodology of calculation, the co-variants used, and WHO’s decision to rely on data from 18 states to reach an estimate that is said to be several times higher than the official Covid mortality estimate of 5,21,710.

India has also opposed its classification as a ‘Tier-2 nation’, which puts it under a category of countries whose official estimates have been judged as not reliable. For countries in this category, the WHO has arrived at its own estimates. For ‘Tier-1 nations’, under which sources say about 80-90 countries have been counted, WHO has accepted official estimates as authentic.

According to government sources, India has pointed out discrepancies in the WHO’s estimates for some countries categorised as Tier-1, to buttress its point that the estimates are arbitrary.

“They have looked at numbers from 18 states to arrive at the figure. They have not revealed the sources of the data used to compute the final estimate. We do not even know which states these are,” a government source told ThePrint.

“We have asked them the rationale behind using single estimates for a country of continental proportions — for example, they have projected the positivity of one region to calculate mortality for the whole country. How can that work?” the source asked.

“We do not understand why they have assumed that temperature is inversely proportional to mortality. We are all for constructive criticism, but if the numbers they have arrived at are different from ours, the logic has to be explained, and this is what we have told them.”

Sources say communication between the WHO and the government of India have been going on for “several months now”. They also say that India had asked WHO to wait for the Civil Registration System (CRS) death figures to be released instead of looking at a model to estimate “undercounting”, but did not receive a positive response.

ThePrint approached both the WHO headquarters and WHO’s South-East Asia Region Office (WHO SEARO) over email, but received no response. A WHO official who did not wish to be identified told ThePrint over WhatsApp messages that the estimates are yet to be released.

Also ReadVaccines worked, 92% of Covid deaths in 2022 were in unvaccinated Indians, govt says

Govt’s previous rebuttal of estimates

Last month, The Lancet had estimated that India accounted for 22.3 per cent of all excess Covid mortality that took place till 31 December 2021. In absolute numbers, the highest cumulative excess deaths happened in India, US, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan.

On 17 February 2022, the government’s PR arm, Press Information Bureau, argued that India had a “robust system” of reporting deaths, including those due to Covid-19. Deaths in India, the PIB release claimed, were compiled regularly “at different levels of governance”, from the village to district to state-level, and were then reported in a “transparent manner”.

The press release listed out various measures that the government of India had undertaken to record the “correct picture” of pandemic-related deaths across the states and said “to project that Covid deaths have been under-reported is without basis and devoid of justification”.

‘WHO hasn’t responded to us’

Sources said the WHO has stuck to its estimates and has not responded so far to the objections raised by the government of India in writing and over virtual meetings.

“In one meeting, they share one estimate and in the next week, they treble it without explaining the logic. This has been on for many months now. If they have policy inputs to offer, they are welcome but what purpose is really going to be served by this exercise except to single out some countries. We have been told that many regional offices too are not happy with these estimates,” said a source.

Pointing out another specific issue shared with WHO, the source said differences in the containment approaches of various states have not been taken into account at all.

“Whatever guidelines we released, it was on the states to implement, and some did it better than others. How can this one-size-fits-all approach be justified for a country of this size?” the source asked.

“We have also shown that there are massive variations in daily data from the Tier-1 countries that go against the nature of this disease. One day there are 20 lakh cases, the next day there are 3 lakh, then there are 15 lakh. We have told WHO to demonstrate the efficacy of their model by plotting numbers from the Tier-1 countries. If it works, then the projection should give the same number as the official estimates. They have not responded to that,” added the source.

(Edited by Manoj Ramachandran)

Also read: WHO flags ‘lack of regulation in pvt sector’ in Indian healthcare, lauds rise in life expectancy


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