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India's top health experts raise questions on WHO' excess Covid deaths report

Indias top health experts raise questions on WHO excess Covid deaths report

India's top health experts in the country is raising several questions on the World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 4.7 million "excess" Covid deaths in the country.

Questioning the modelling methodology used by WHO, the health experts have expressed disappointment over the global health body's "one-size-fits-all" approach to arrive at the figure.

As per reports, ICMR director General Balram Bhargava, NITI Aayog Member (Health) V K Paul, AIIMS Director Randeep Guleria and NTAGI's Covid-19 Working Group Chairman Dr N K Arora has rejected the WHO report as 'untenable and unfortunate'.

As per a report by Indian Express, if the WHO numbers are taken at face value, that would imply India missed 90 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths in the first two years of the pandemic – and possibly millions of deaths were not even recorded.

However, several population scientists claim that missing such a large number of deaths was "extremely unlikely".

According to WHO, 8.3 lakh Covid-19 deaths happened in 2020 – the official Covid-19 toll for India for that year is 1.49 lakh. The government Thursday said that an estimated 81.2 lakh people died in the country that year due to all causes. This is consistent with past data that shows that, on average, about 83.5 lakh people die in the country every year in the last decade and a half.

If 8.3 lakh of the 81.2 lakh deaths were caused by Covid-19, as the WHO says, non-Covid deaths in the year 2020 were only around 73 lakh. India's total death toll for a year has never been below 80 lakh since 2007 when data is available.

Meanwhile, WHO estimates say that 39.1 lakh Covid-19 deaths happened in 2021. This is at least 4 lakh more than what the entire world, put together, reported that year.

India's official Covid-19 death toll for 2021 is 3.32 lakh. That would mean that India missed almost 92 percent of the Covid-19 deaths in that year.

Data from 11 states, which together account for 75 percent of the country's death burden, shows that the total number of applications made for Covid death compensation is less than twice the combined death toll in these states.

Apart from the fact that the affluent sections might not be filing these claims to get Rs 50,000 compensation, issues related to the accessibility of government agencies and services could also be barriers to people filing these applications. At the same time, however, there is also the possibility of people filing fake applications.

The bottom line, however, is that the application numbers are not anywhere near the WHO's numbers.

The WHO numbers would also imply that the Covid-19 deaths per million population in India is 3,448, instead of 384 according to the official death toll. The global average for deaths per million is about 804.

Population scientists say that the actual death count would not be a matter of speculation, or a modeling exercise, once the data from the Sample Registration Survey (SRS) is out. SRS is a survey-based sampling exercise that estimates the number of births and deaths every year. It is through this exercise that we know that about 83.5 lakh people die in the country every year, on average.

They also say that states will continue to add backdated deaths to the tally after verification. Kerala is doing that on a daily basis, while other states do it periodically.

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