India accused of trying to stall effort by WHO to review global Covid death toll

India has been accused of stalling the World Health Organisation’s bid to review the global Covid-19 death toll after it pegged the country’s current number of deaths to be over four million.

According to the Indian health ministry, the country has officially recorded 520,000 coronavirus deaths so far since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the unpublished report suggests that India has underreported its deaths by some 3.5 million.

The WHO report says that around 15 million people died across the world by the end of 2021, which is more than double the official total of six million deaths reported by countries individually.

Over one-third of the additional nine million deaths are estimated to have taken place in India, which would make it by far the highest toll in the world.

The Indian government has reportedly asked the technical advisory group (TAG) to publish their estimates from the research paper titled “Estimating Country-Specific Excess Mortality During the COVID-19 Pandemic” in ten years’ time.

WHO has clarified that it aims to publish the report in April 2022.

The federal government as well as several state governments in India were accused of hiding real death tolls when the country was ravaged by the Delta variant of Covid-19 last summer. Patients were seen scrambling for oxygen and hospital beds, while crematoriums were overflowing with dead bodies.

The Uttar Pradesh government was left red-faced after heavy rains revealed hundreds of floating corpses in the river Ganges and bodies buried along its banks.

A student reacts as he receives a shot of Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive for children aged 12 to 14 years, in Bangalore


But despite these accusations, Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has cited a low mortality rate to maintain that the country has been successful in tackling the coronavirus infection.

A report by the New York Times claimed that WHO’s effort to calculate the actual global toll from the Covid-19 pandemic was delayed for “months” because of objections from India over the “calculation of how many of its citizens died and has tried to keep it from becoming public”.

The report comes at a time when WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus is on a three-day visit to India.

Rebutting the accusations, the federal health ministry in a statement said: “India’s basic objection has not been with the result (whatever they might have been) but rather the methodology adopted for the same.”

If the model is reliable, then “it should be authenticated by running it for all Tier I countries and if the result of such exercise may be shared with all member states”, it added.

New Delhi has failed to submit its entire mortality data to the health organization for the past two years, forcing researchers to use numbers gathered from at least 12 states, including those with large numbers of undercounted deaths, the American daily reported.

“We stress that for India the global predictive covariate model is not used and so the estimates of excess mortality are based on data from India only,” the WHO researchers countered, according to Hindustan Times.

WHO’s findings are in line with earlier studies that pegged the actual number of deaths in India to be 10 times higher than the official figures.

A report co-published by India’s former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian suggested that the gap between the official number and the actual toll could be anywhere between three million and 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021.

India had also rejected two other studies published in the journals Science and Lancet that concluded that the current mortality figures could be much higher.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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