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India strongly objects to WHO’s Covid-19 excess mortality data

India, on Thursday, strongly objected to the methodology adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) to project excess mortality estimates related to Covid-19 based on mathematical models, saying that the validity and robustness of the models are questionable.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare maintained that the data published through Civil Registration System (CRS) by the Registrar General of India (RGI) is authentic and reliable to project excess mortality numbers for India.

“The Civil Registration data, as well as Sample Registration data released annually by RGI, has been used by a large number of researchers, policymakers and scientists both domestically & globally,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry’s objection comes after WHO earlier today released a report estimating that there were 4.7 million Covid deaths in India 10 times more than the official figures and almost a third of Covid deaths globally. WHO report said that nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years, more than double the official death count of 6 million. Most of the fatalities were in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas, as per the WHO report.

Emphasising the authenticity of RGI data, the health ministry said that, “Based on reports submitted by states/UTs, National reports – Vital Statistics of India based on Civil Registration System (CRS) are published annually by the Registrar”, further stating that “such robust and accurate data generated through Legal Framework of a Member State must be respected, accepted and used by WHO rather than relying on less than accurate mathematical projection based on non-official sources of data”.

India further raised its disagreement with the assumptions used by WHO to classify countries into Tier I and II as well as questioned the very basis for placing India into Tier II countries. India doesn’t deserve to be placed in Tier II countries. WHO to date has not responded to India’s contention, the statement from the ministry said.

The government also claimed WHO’s data collection techniques as “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable” as it has collected mortality data of seventeen Indian states from some websites and media reports.

India objected to the use of Global Health Estimates (GHE) 2019 in one of the models used by WHO for calculating excess mortality estimates for India. GHE itself is an estimate.

“Therefore, a modeling approach which provides mortality estimates on the basis of another estimate, while totally disregarding the actual data available within the country, exhibits lack of academic rigour,” the statement said.

The test positivity rate another key variable used by the WHO for Covid-19 in India was never uniform throughout the country at any point of time.

Such a modeling approach fails to take into account the variability in Covid positivity rate both in terms of space and time within the country. The model also fails to take into account the rate of testing and impact of different diagnostic methods (RAT/RT-PCR) used in different geographies, the statement stated.

Owing to its large area, diversity and a population of 1.3 billion, which witnessed variable severity of the pandemic both across space and time, India consistently objected to the use of “one size fits all” approach and model, which may be applicable to smaller countries but cannot be applicable to India, the ministry said.

Moreover, the government claimed that reliable figures released by the Statutory Authority captured through a “rigorous process” across the country are presently available for analysis and support in policy planning.

“Modelling, more often than not, can lead to over-estimation and on few occasions, these estimates may stretch to the limits of absurdity,” it said.

The data released by the CRS report 2020, under the aegis of the office of RGI, was shared with WHO for preparation of excess mortality report, the ministry pointed out.

“Despite communicating this data to WHO for supporting their publication, WHO for reasons best known to them conveniently chose to ignore the available data submitted by India and published the excess mortality estimates for which the methodology, source of data, and the outcomes has been consistently questioned by India,” the government said in its statement.

Meanwhile, India today reported 3,205 new Covid-19 cases, taking the coronavirus tally to 4,30,88,118. The country also recorded 31 new Covid-related fatalities, bring the total number of deaths to 523,920.

According to the Health Ministry, the daily positivity rate stood at 1.07 per cent, while the weekly positivity rate was 0.70 per cent. Business Today

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