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WHO says 47 lakh excess Covid deaths in India

India raised strong objections to the report, with the Union Health Ministry questioning the “validity and robustness of the models used and methodology of data”
Last Updated 06 May 2022, 02:34 IST

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday released its much-awaited report on excess death estimates for the world during the two pandemic years, showing more than 4.74 million (47.4 lakh) such deaths in India — nearly 10 times higher than the country’s official Covid-19 toll.

India raised strong objections to the report, with the Union Health Ministry questioning the “validity and robustness of the models used and methodology of data collection”.

As per the report, between January 2020 and December 2021, India’s cumulative excess mortality stood at 47,40,894 on an average as against the reported Covid-19 deaths of around 4,81,000 by the end of 2021. India’s current Covid-19 toll stands at more than 5,23,000.

Globally, the WHO estimate shows approximately 14.9 million excess deaths in the last two years as against the reported toll of 5.42 million.

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. It includes deaths associated with Covid-19 directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society).

Deaths linked indirectly to Covid-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.

Some 68% of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally, with India topping the list with 4.74 million followed by Russia and Indonesia, both having more than a million excess deaths each. Other countries in the top ten list are Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Turkey and the USA.

The estimates have been made using a modelling exercise overseen by a technical expert group of over 40 top scholars from all over the world along with consultation with the member countries. “These new estimates use the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach,” said Samira Asma, Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics and Delivery, at the WHO.

“Knowing how many people died in the pandemic will help us prepare better for the future... But most importantly, we need to honour the lives lost and we must hold our policymakers accountable,” she noted.

The health ministry rejected the figure. “Despite communicating the Civil Registration System 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,” the ministry said.

Earlier, the ministry had turned down similar conclusions drawn by multiple research studies that used publicly available data sets and different types of models to calculate the extent of undercounting of Covid-19 deaths in India.

Asma said the WHO estimate would be revised later on the basis of new data and more engagement with the member countries.

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

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(Published 05 May 2022, 18:46 IST)

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