How WHO report on excess COVID deaths has become a political row in India

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While the government strongly refuted the WHO report, which puts COVID deaths 10 times more than the official numbers, the Congress party blamed the Centre for mismanaging the pandemic

How WHO report on excess COVID deaths has become a political row in India

Representational image. AP

A latest report on COVID deaths by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has brought it at loggerheads with the Central government, which has “strongly objected” to it.

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India contended that the WHO report, which was based on a mathematical report, was “totally removed from reality”, adding that the system of data collection was “statistically unsound and scientifically questionable”.

If on one hand leaders of the BJP-led government took to social media to refute the WHO report, on the other hand they also had to tackle barbs by opposition leaders.

As the WHO and India continue to trade charges, we take a closer look at what is the report and how political leaders have reacted to it:

What the WHO said?

On Thursday, the WHO said that the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic (described as “excess mortality”) between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021 was approximately 14.9 million.

For the unversed, excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.

In its report, the WHO report pegs India’s COVID-19 excess deaths at 47,40,894 during 2020 and 2021. The government’s data for the same period puts the number at 4,81,486.

This shows that WHO’s numbers are 10 times the official figures and almost a third of COVID-19 deaths globally.

Also read: Explained: Why India is disproving WHO’s report on excess COVID-19 deaths

The WHO in its report said the estimates may not be regarded as the national statistics officially produced by India due to differences arising from the data and methods used by WHO.

It noted that the information from the Civil Registration System (CRS) in India for 2020 was made publicly available by the Registrar General of India (RGI) on 3 May in a report.

The newly published information in the report is being carefully examined and will be taken into consideration in revisions of the estimates.

On the methodology it used for the report, the WHO said, as per a Business Standard report, “For India, we use a variety of sources for the registered number of deaths at the state and union territory level. The information was either reported directly by the states through official reports and automatic vital registration, or by journalists who obtained death registration information through Right To Information requests.”

What did the Ministry of Health say?

First to reject the WHO report was the Ministry of Health, which objected to the use of mathematical models, saying validity and robustness of the models used and methodology of data collection are questionable.

“Despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise, WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns,” the health ministry said in a statement.

The ensuing political row

Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi took the charge against the BJP government by alleging, “Science doesn’t LIE. Modi does.”

He also demanded the mandatory Rs 4 lakh compensation to the families of the deceased.

The BJP’s Karnataka unit challenged Gandhi to give “scientific data from states ruled by CONgress & its friends”.

Let us start with scientific data from States ruled by CONgress & its friends.

Do you believe your Government or that WHO?

What say PERPETUAL LIAR @RahulGandhi?

— BJP Karnataka (@BJP4Karnataka) May 6, 2022

The Congress party also took to Twitter to slam the Central government for “the mismanagement of the COVID pandemic”.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that it was “shameful that Modi Govt isn’t taking responsibility even now”

The BJP in return held a press conference to explain how the WHO data is wrong. In a series of tweets, the party said that there were four reasons why they believe the data is wrong.

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