The government on Saturday hit out at an international magazine that claimed ‘India has suffered perhaps five to seven times “excess deaths” than the official number of Covid-19 fatalities’. The article, the government referred to but did not name, was published in The Economist that has claimed “the government’s numbers represent a disturbingly small fraction of the real figure”.
In a statement, the Union Health Ministry said it is a speculative article, which is without any basis and seems to be misinformed, adding the unsound analysis of the article is based on extrapolation of data without any epidemiological evidence.
The government said states and Union territories record deaths related to coronavirus following guidance issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). The Union Health Ministry has regularly emphasised the need for a robust reporting mechanism for monitoring district-wise cases and deaths on a daily basis, the statement said.
The studies used by the international magazine as an estimate of excess mortality are not validated tools for determining mortality rate of any country or region, the government said.
“The so called evidence cited by the magazine is a study supposedly done by Christopher Laffler of Virginia Commonwealth University. An internet search of research studies in scientific database such Pubmed, Research Gate, etc., did not locate this study and the detailed methodology of this study has not been provided by the magazine.”
Another evidence given is the study done in Telangana based on insurance claims. Again, there is no peer reviewed scientific data available on such study,” the statement further said.
“Two other studies relied upon are those done by Psephology groups namely “Prashnam” and “C-Voter” who are well versed in conducting, predicting and analysing poll results. They were never ever associated with public health research. Even in their own area of work of psephology, their methodologies for predicting poll results have been wide off the mark many times.”
By its own submission, the magazine said that “such estimates have been extrapolated from patchy and often unreliable local government data, from company records and from analyses of such things as obituaries”, it statement further said.
Stating that it has been transparent in its approach to COVID data management, the government said that as early as May 2020, the ICMR had issued ‘Guidance for appropriate recording of COVID-19 related deaths in India’ for correct recording of all deaths as per ICD-10 codes recommended by WHO for mortality coding.
States and UTs have been urged through formal communications, multiple video conferences and through deployment of Central teams for correct recording of deaths in accordance with laid down guidelines.
States consistently reporting lower number of daily deaths were told to re-check their data. A case in point is the Centre writing to Bihar to provide detailed date and district-wise break-up of the reconciled number of deaths to Union Health Ministry, the statement said. After a revision in death figures, Bihar has added 3,951 unreported casualties from the districts which has raised the tally above 9,000.
The government said there shall always be difference in mortality recorded during a prolonged public health crisis such as Covid-19 and well conducted research studies on excess mortalities, usually done after the event when data on mortalities are available from reliable sources. “The methodologies for such studies are well established, the data sources are defined as also the valid assumptions for computing mortality,” the ministry said.