India to contest WHO’s COVID-19 excess deaths report

WHO has released COVID-19 excess death estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns, says Health Ministry.

May 05, 2022 10:13 pm | Updated May 06, 2022 11:14 am IST - NEW DELHI

The body of a COVID-19 victim is taken for cremation at Nigam Bodh Ghat in New Delhi on January 13, 2022.

The body of a COVID-19 victim is taken for cremation at Nigam Bodh Ghat in New Delhi on January 13, 2022. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

India will take up the “glaring anomalies’’ in the report by the World Health Organisation on excess mortality estimates associated with the COVID-19 pandemic at the highest and appropriate forum, said sources in the Health Ministry on Thursday.

India has objected to the sourcing of data, methodology for collecting data, mathematical model used for arriving at the final figures that have been released, the outcome of the data analyses and the fact that it has been listed in tier-2 countries despite being open to share all data with the WHO.

India has been consistently objecting to the methodology adopted by the WHO to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models. Despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise, the WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns, the Ministry said in a response issued after the report was officially released.

It added that India had also informed the WHO that in view of the availability of authentic data published through the Civil Registration System (CRS) by the Registrar General of India (RGI), mathematical models should not be used for projecting excess mortality numbers for India. India has also consistently questioned the WHO’s own admission that data in respect of seventeen Indian states was obtained from some websites and media reports and was used in their mathematical model.

“This reflects a statistically unsound and scientifically questionable methodology of data collection for making excess mortality projections in the case of India,’’ said the Ministry.

It explained that throughout the process of dialogue, engagement and communication with the WHO, the global health body had projected different excess mortality figures for India citing multiple models, which itself raises questions on the validity and robustness of the models used.

“The Indian government has always been ready to share data with the WHO. The matter will be taken up at the highest forum, while adhering to the due procedure. The matter was discussed when WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was in India recently,’’ added the source.

The Health Ministry said that despite having written to the WHO ten times since November last, the organisation had not given a satisfactory response to defend the methodology used to arrive at figures that have been released for the period between January 2020 and 31 December 2021.

Editorial | An honest reckoning: On simmering dispute between India and WHO about COVID-19 deaths

“We don’t understand why, when the government is ready to share all data with the WHO, it would resort to using data collected without a scientific basis. The numbers are nowhere close to reality and India can’t be compared to smaller countries in the world and the model used there can’t be extrapolated to India,’’ said the Ministry.

India has also said that the WHO should appreciate the fact that mortality is a sensitive topic and any speculative report on this can have multiple and needless adverse effects.

Validity of model

“WHO is yet to give answers to India’s question on validation of the mathematical model by running it on tier-1 countries to prove its robustness and validity. India has told the WHO multiple times about the Registrar-General of India’s numbers on birth and deaths which is collected through a rigorous process and also expressed its keenness to share this data. Why this was never taken up is also something WHO hasn’t been able to answer,’’ said the Ministry.

It noted that despite communicating availability of data released by the Civil Registration System (CRS) report-2020 to the WHO for supporting their publication, the WHO chose to ignore the data submitted by India.

“India’s CRS data is till 2020 and we had requested the WHO to use this while also informing them that additional data would be made available. We are keen to submit data for 2020-21 and requested the WHO to state that this is pending. This could have been easily accommodated which hasn’t happened in this report,’’ added the Ministry.

India has also questioned as to why and how the numbers in the WHO report were “leaked’’ to the press before the actual release of the report.

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.