WHO report claims India underreported COVID-19 deaths; India strongly objects
India on Thursday strongly objected to a new World Health Organization report, which claims India witnessed nearly 10 times higher COVID-19 deaths in 2020-21 than the official figures. In a statement, the Centre said it has objections to the methodology the WHO adopted to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models. It also alleged the WHO released estimates without adequately addressing India's concerns.
- India has long been opposing the methodology adopted by the UN body to estimate excess COVID-19 deaths.
- To push back against the WHO's report, India on Tuesday also released its 2020 mortality data, which showed India registered about 475,000 more total deaths in 2020 than in 2019.
- Notably, India has been accused of underreporting its COVID-19 death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
As per WHO estimates, India's actual death toll is 9.8 times higher than the official figures. The WHO claimed 4.74M (or 47.4L) people died in India as a result of the pandemic between January 2020 and December 2021. However, India's official death toll for this period was about 4,80,000. Meanwhile, the worldwide death toll for the same period was 14.9M (1.49cr), the report added.
India alleged that India's objection to the process, methodology, and outcome of this modeling exercise was not properly addressed by the WHO. The government said WHO must accept, respect, and use the data of the National Report on nationwide birth and death data—"generated through Legal Framework of a Member State"—rather than "relying on less than accurate mathematical projection based on non-official sources of data."
India said it had pointed out inconsistencies in the "criteria and assumption used by WHO." It questioned the very basis for placing it into Tier II countries for which a mathematical modeling estimate is used. India had underlined that "given the accuracy of the Mortality Data collected through an effective and robust statutory system, India doesn't deserve to be placed in Tier II countries."
Further, India also questioned the source of data for the WHO's report. It also highlighted the WHO's own admission that data from 17 Indian states were obtained from some websites and media reports and used in its mathematical model. "This reflects a statistically unsound and scientifically questionable methodology of data collection for making excess mortality projections in the case of India," the Centre added.
India said it consistently objected to the WHO's "one-size-fits-all" approach to the modeling, "owing to its large area, diversity, and...population of 1.3 billion which witnessed variable severity of the pandemic both across space and time." "India's request to use the available data from [an] authentic Indian source was not considered," it added. The WHO is yet to respond to inconsistencies pointed out by India.
Meanwhile, the WHO said it has not yet fully examined the new mortality data provided by India this week, Reuters reported. The UN body said it might add a disclaimer to its report highlighting the ongoing discussion with India.