India questions WHO's methodology to calculate COVID-19 deaths: Here's why
India on Saturday asserted the World Health Organization (WHO) utilized incorrect methodology for calculating its COVID-19 deaths. The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry said the WHO's mathematical model for Tier 2 countries can't be used for a large country like India. This came in response to a New York Times article that claimed India opposed the release of the WHO's COVID-19 death estimates.
Why does this story matter?
In the NYT report titled "India Is Stalling the WHO's Efforts to Make Global Covid Death Toll Public," India has been accused of "undercounting" the actual COVID-19 death toll and also being complacent during the virus outbreak last year. Previously, experts had suggested the discrepancies in deaths could be attributed to the lack of testing, reporting challenges, or an inability to access healthcare.
What did the Health Ministry say?
The ministry said the WHO's one-size-fits-all approach cannot be applicable to India, which has a 1.3B population. It added such methods may be appropriate for smaller countries like Tunisia. It stated the disparity in the WHO's estimates and its count raises questions over the validity and accuracy. It noted the WHO hasn't shared "the confidence interval for the present statistical model across various countries."
Concerns over the use of Global Health Estimates 2019
The Health Ministry also questioned why the Global Health Estimates 2019—which themselves are estimates—were utilized to estimate India's projected death toll. Contending the country has a solid data collection and management system, it said the WHO shouldn't have used GHE 2019 data. Meanwhile, it also noted that for estimates of Tier 1 nations, the WHO used "mortality figures directly obtained" from the concerned countries.
What did the 'NYT' report say?
The NYT article alleged the release of the WHO's global COVID-19 death estimates was delayed for months due to objections from India, which challenged the estimates. It further claimed India's death toll is at least four million—"the highest tally in the world"—as per WHO estimates. "More than a third of the additional nine million deaths are estimated to have occurred in India," it added.
WHO estimates aimed to include uncounted deaths: Report
The NYT report also said the WHO methodology combined national data on reported fatalities and locality/household surveys with "statistical models that aim to account for deaths that were missed." The exercise was aimed at providing estimates of previously uncounted deaths caused by COVID-19. The estimates also include indirect deaths, like that of individuals who couldn't get treatment for other conditions due to the pandemic.
WHO lacks scientific backing to substantiate death claims: Centre
The ministry also said the WHO model lacks scientific backing to substantiate its assertions as it assumes an "inverse relationship between monthly temperature and monthly average deaths." In the statement issued on Saturday, it maintained India is a vast country with widely varied seasonal patterns. "Thus, estimating national level mortality based on these 18 States' [used for estimates] data is statistically unproven," it said.Share this timeline