Lancet report on India’s alleged excess deaths due to COVID-19 faulty: Government

Data for the study is taken from non-peer reviewed studies, says Ministry statement

March 11, 2022 09:43 pm | Updated March 12, 2022 02:01 am IST - NEW DELHI

Covid 19 virus victims cremation in progress at Ghazipur, New Delhi on April 28, 2021

Covid 19 virus victims cremation in progress at Ghazipur, New Delhi on April 28, 2021 | Photo Credit: SUSHIL KUMAR VERMA

A study published in an international journal claiming COVID-19 mortality in India is higher than official counts is speculative and misinformed said the Health Ministry on Friday in a statement issued by it.

The Lancet reported recently that excess mortality rates due to COVID-19 among the Indian States are not the highest in the world, because of India’s large population, but the country accounted for around over 20% of global excess deaths as of December 31, 2021. The Ministry in its statement added that the authors themselves admit to several methodology flaws and inconsistencies in this paper.

The study takes into account different methodologies for different countries, the Ministry said in a statement.

“For India, for example, data sources used by the study appear to have been taken from newspaper reports and non-peer reviewed studies,’’ it said.

This model uses data of all cause excess mortality (created by another non-peer reviewed model) as an input and this raises serious concerns about the accuracy of the results of this statistical exercise, said the statement. Quoting issues as sensitive as death and that too during an ongoing global public health crisis like pandemic COVID-19 should be dealt with facts and with required sensitivity, the Ministry added.

“This type of speculative reporting has potential to create panic in the community, can misguide people and should be avoided,” it said.

Last month, too, India dismissed previous reports of alleged under-reporting of COVID-19 deaths in the country, with the Health Ministry asserting that it has a robust mechanism in place.

The Ministry explained that for States where Civil Registration System was available, reported deaths during the pandemic has been compared with average reported deaths for the same period in the year 2018 and 2019 which doesn’t take into account multiple pandemic management efforts including lockdown, containment zones, testing and contact tracing, wider dissemination and implementation of clinical management protocols and world’s largest vaccination drive, which form the foundation of pandemic management in the country.

“The reporting of deaths is regularly done in a transparent manner and is daily updated in public domain on the website of Union Ministry of Health. Even the backlog in COVID-19 mortality data being submitted by the States at different times is reconciled in the data of Government of India on a regular basis. Furthermore, there is a financial incentive in India to report COVID-19 deaths as they are entitled to monetary compensation. Hence, the likelihood of underreporting is less,’’ it said.

Excess mortality measures the additional deaths in a given time period compared to the number usually expected and is not dependent on how COVID-19 deaths are recorded. The Ministry further adds that the authors of the article have themselves admitted that ‘direct measurement would be preferable to modelled excess mortality estimates not based on all-cause mortality data, which are usually more robust, from the locations themselves.’

Further they have mentioned that ‘as studies from a few selected countries including the Netherlands and Sweden have suggested, we suspect most of the excess mortality during the pandemic is from COVID-19. However, sufficient empirical evidence is absent in most countries.

“Given the high amount of heterogeneity in epidemiological profiles among countries, it is prudent not to make such strong assumptions before more research on this topic is done,’’ said the Ministry.

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