India has most COVID fatalities, says WHO; Centre refutes figures

For India, the cumulative excess deaths associated with the pandemic estimated by the WHO is 4,740,894

The World Health Organisation on Thursday said India had 4.7 million COVID deaths, the highest in the world, a claim “strongly refuted” by the Centre.

In an updated report, WHO said between January 2020 and December 2021, there were 4.7 million excess deaths in India — 10 times the official figures.

Globally, about 14.9 million people were killed either by COVID directly or due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society.

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India strongly objected to the use of mathematical models by the World Health Organization (WHO) for projecting excess mortality estimates linked to the coronavirus pandemic in view of the availability of authentic data, saying the validity and robustness of the models used and the methodology of data collection are questionable.

New estimates from the WHO show that the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID pandemic, described as excess mortality, between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, was approximately 14.9 million.

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 Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes, he said.

Excess mortality 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 motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.

For India, the cumulative excess deaths associated with the pandemic estimated by the WHO is 4,740,894.

In a technical note for India, WHO said the estimates may not be regarded as the national statistics officially produced by India due to differences arising from the data and methods used by WHO.

It noted that the information from the Civil Registration System (CRS) in India for 2020 was made publicly available by the Registrar General of India (RGI) on May 3, 2022 in a report.

The newly published information in the report is being carefully examined and will be taken into consideration in revisions of the estimates.

India has been consistently objecting to the methodology adopted by the WHO to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models, the Union Health Ministry said in a statement.

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“Despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise, WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns,” the statement said.

India had also informed the WHO that in view of the availability of authentic data published through CRS by the RGI, mathematical models should not be used for projecting excess mortality numbers for India. The Indian government on Tuesday published the CRS report 2020 based on birth and death reports.

“Now that actual count of excess deaths from all the causes is available, there is no rationale for using modelling-driven estimates based on pure conjectures and assumptions,” NITI Aayog member V K Paul told PTI.

He pointed out that compared to the calendar year 2018, in 2019 there was 6.9 lakh excess mortality.

(With Agency inputs)