Saturday, June 25, 2022

Health ministry debunks NYT on Covid deaths; questions WHO

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya

India on Saturday responded to New York Times article titled “India Is Stalling the WHO’s Efforts to Make Global Covid Death Toll Public”. 

In the article, New York Times accused India of not cooperating with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in making the COVID-19 death toll public. 

Hitting out at the media house, the ministry said, “It is very surprising that while New York Times purportedly could obtain the alleged figures of excess COVID-19 mortality in respect to India, it was unable to learn the estimates for other countries!!”

The article was published on April 16. The ministry raised concerns about the WHO’s methodology for calculating COVID-19 deaths in the country. 

Notably, India along with other member countries, including China and Bangladesh, shared its concern with the methodology through a series of six formal letters to the WHO. These letters were written between November 2021 to February 2022.

The Union Health Ministry in a statement said, “India has been in regular and in-depth technical exchange with WHO on the issue. The analysis while uses mortality figures directly obtained from Tier –I set of countries, uses a mathematical modelling process for Tier II countries (which includes India). India’s basic objection has not been with the result (whatever they might have been) but rather the methodology adopted for the same.”

India has also raised the issue with the WHO in virtual meetings, including the SEARO Regional Webinar held on February 10, 2022. As per the Health Ministry, the concern specifically includes how the statistical model projects estimates for a country of geographical size and population of India and also fits in with other countries which have a smaller population.

The ministry said, “The model gives two highly different sets of excess mortality estimates of when using the data from Tier I countries and when using unverified data from 18 Indian States. Such wide variation in estimates raises concerns about validity and accuracy of such a modelling exercise.” India also pointed out that if the model adopted for calculated COVID-19 deaths in the country is accurate, then it should also be adopted for all Tier I countries.

The ministry added, “The model gives two highly different sets of excess mortality estimates of when using the data from Tier I countries and when using unverified data from 18 Indian States. Such wide variation in estimates raises concerns about validity and accuracy of such a modelling exercise.”

Notably, till now, the WHO has not given any satisfactory response to India’s queries. The ministry said that the country believes in-depth clarity on methodology and clear proof of its validity are crucial for policymakers. According to the Health Ministry, till April 16, 2022, a total of 5,21,747 people lost their lives due to COVID-19.

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