India: The country with the most number of COVID-19 deaths as of December 2021. Why are the WHO estimates of COVID-19 deaths objectionable to the Indian Government?
On 5 May 2022, WHO released an estimate of the number of deaths that occurred worldwide due to the pandemic. This report came just two days after India released its annual data of births and deaths recorded by the Civil Registration System (CRS), headed by the Registrar General of India, Shri Vivek Joshi.
According to the report by the World Health Organization published in the New York Times, 1.5 crore people died by direct or indirect impact of the pandemic. Out of this, 47 lakh deaths are said to be from India.
India strongly opposed this estimate and stated that there were only 4.75 lakh deaths by the end of the year 2021.
The WHO disagreed with the allegations of the Indian Ministry and stayed rigid on its report.
The Estimates of WHO-
The World Health Organization is an agency of the United Nations established on 7 April, 1948. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It specialises in keeping in check the health of all the people of the world. It is headed by Tedros Adhanom.
Last week on Thursday, WHO released an estimate on the number of globally deaths that occurred in 2020 and 2021. The report was published in the New York Times on 5 May, 2022.
According to the report, about 1.5 crore people succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2021 worldwide. About 47 lakh were from India, which is about a third of the total number. The significant number of deaths were reported from South East Asia, Europe and America.
(The estimates of Sri Lanka and China represent the number of deaths lesser than the ones who died during the pandemic.)
The formula used by WHO to give out the estimate was-
f(x) = (The number of deaths that have occurred) – (The number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic)
This contains deaths linked directly or indirectly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of seventeen states and a union territory, making up about 70% of the Indian population, were made a part of the census by the WHO. The organization not only took data from the CRS but also gathered it from the media houses and the RTI reports.
Opposition by India-
The report by WHO had been brought out just two days after India released its annual census of the number of deaths by the Civil Registration System.
Opposing the estimates by WHO, India claimed that the deaths in India due to COVID-19 were ten times lesser than what has been claimed by the World Health Organization.
As per the Indian Ministry, the Government of India sent ten letters to the WHO regarding to the objection by the latter to the report brought out by the former. In a statement to the media, the Indian Ministry said, “The WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without addressing concern of India”.
India gave the following grounds for objection-
1. India said that the calculation model was unscientific and un-statistical as the formula used was meant for the tier-2 countries while India should have been a part of tier-1. Even a war-torn country like Iraq, where data collection, analysis and reporting is sporadic is in tier-1.
2. WHO gathered data from only seventeen states, that too from websites and media reports. This showed non-sensible and scientifically questionable methodology.
3. WHO gave out their estimate through their own Global Health Estimate of 2019. They neglected the official data given by the Government of India and used a mere forecast to give out another estimate.
4. It used a one-size fits all model to calculate the number of deaths and did not consider the variations in test positivity and severity across the country.
Why is India against the WHO reports?
- Veiling its habit of tampering with official numbers
It is a well-known fact that India misleads its citizens by tampering with its official data. Most of the diseases are not recorded by the officials, and even when recorded, they are written by different names. It was this that led the media houses of India to form their report of COVID-19 deaths. These reports were used by the World Health Organization to give out its estimate.
It was infact a big win for the right to freedom of speech. According to several reports and individual witnesses, most dead bodies during the pandemic used to get thrown into the river or burnt without being entered into the official records. It is no wonder why the Indian Government is scared of the estimates by the UN health organization.
- Corruption in funds
The Government of India had announced several funds and schemes for the aid of the families who lost a member to the pandemic. While most of the families are still waiting for the funds, several were not even able to avail of the service as the death of the member was not officially recorded. So if this data comes out, it will lead to an enraged reaction from the media and the public. No government would want that.
- Saving face for the next elections
The ruling party has been known to go to any extent to win the elections. By misrepresenting their policies and giving out false propaganda, they have fooled the public several times. It is very well known that the government failed to carry out proper initiatives to counter the COVID crisis. The Modi government had even opened the lockdown for the sake of getting votes. If the numbers are made public, they would have to face the wrath of the ordinary people in the next elections.
- Escaping from global criticism
Narendra Modi has made huge claims worldwide about how outstanding his leadership is. He might undoubtedly be great, but that did not prove to be enough to save the lives of so many citizens. India has turned out to be the country with the most number of deaths due to the pandemic. WHO criticized India for not owning up to its lack of proper management and instead opposing the estimates.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma