WHO's COVID-19 deaths report | Methodology of data collection questionable, says Pakistan

Official records state Pakistan had 30,369 COVID-19 deaths with over 1.5 million infections

Updated - May 07, 2022 07:14 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2022 05:46 pm IST - Islamabad

Men wearing protective masks walk in a market, as the coronavirus outbreak continues, in Karachi, Pakistan.

Men wearing protective masks walk in a market, as the coronavirus outbreak continues, in Karachi, Pakistan. | Photo Credit: Reuters

The Pakistani Government has rejected the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) report on the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country, questioning the United Nations body’s methodology to collect data and supposing an error in the software used to collate the numbers.

In a recent report, the WHO estimated there were 2,60,000 COVID-19 deaths in Pakistan — eight times the official figure. Official records state Pakistan had 30,369 COVID-19 deaths with over 1.5 million infections.

“We [authorities] have been gathering data manually on COVID deaths, it could have a difference of a few hundred but it can’t be in hundreds of thousands. This is completely baseless,” Samaa News quoted Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel as saying.

According to the report, nearly 15 million people were killed either by the coronavirus or by its impact on overwhelmed health systems in the past two years across the world, more than double the official death toll of six million. Most of the fatalities were in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.

Minister Patel said the government has explained the calculation process to the WHO in a note rejecting the world health body’s numbers.

Mr. Patel said the methodology of data collection is questionable, adding that authorities in Pakistan collected the figures from hospitals, union councils, and graveyards.

He suspected “some error” in the data collection software used by the WHO which has been “showing figures in average”, according to the Samaa News report.

Responding to the WHO report, the Health Ministry said a reporting mechanism is in place whereby every COVID-19 related death is reported on a district level, which is then collated at a provincial level by the respective healthcare systems, and finally, a cumulative number is shared on a national level which is reported via official channels.

“The mortality audit carried out by the NCOC [National Command and Control Centre] critically looked at the graveyard data of big cities,” the Ministry stated.

The death count in Pakistan is verifiable and accepted globally. Multiple checks and balances on the reporting systems are in place and the extra deaths reported in graveyards coincide with the COVID-19 waves that hit Pakistan, it concluded.

Meanwhile, former Special Assistant to the then Prime Minister on health Faisal Sultan said the WHO data on coronavirus deaths in Pakistan is “not reliable”.

He defended the government’s death reports, saying that studies of the number of graveyard burials in major cities did not reveal large numbers of uncounted victims of the pandemic.

Mr. Sultan termed the figures “extremely sensitive” as it would reflect on the handling of the crisis by authorities around the world.

“Our coronavirus death record was accurate but it is not possible to have a 100% correct death toll, it could be 10-30% less but to say it was eight times less is unbelievable,” he said.

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