Congress leader Rahul Gandhi claimed in a recent tweet that 47 lakh Indians have died due to the coronavirus pandemic and not 4.8 lakh as claimed by the Centre. He also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said that while the Prime Minister lies, science does not.
While sharing World Health Organisation’s (WHO) data vis-à-vis the excess mortality due to COVID-19, Gandhi tweeted, “47 lakh Indians died due to the COVID-19 pandemic. NOT 4.8 lakh as claimed by the government. Science doesn’t LIE. Modi does. Respect families who’ve lost loved ones. Support them with the mandated Rs 4 lakh compensation.”
The WHO data shared by Gandhi stated that India reported 47, 29,548 deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 whereas Russia logged 10, 72, 510 fatalities during the same period. Countries like Indonesia (10, 29, 875); the US (9, 32,795); Brazil (6, 81,219); Mexico (6, 25, 923); Peru (2, 89, 654); Turkey (2, 64, 278); Egypt (2, 51, 635) and South Africa (2, 38, 893) followed suit.
The data cited by Gandhi has been disputed by health experts – ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava, NITI Aayog Member (Health) VK Paul, NTAGI chief Dr NK Arora and AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria—on the grounds that the global health body has used a “one-size-fits-all” approach to arrive at the 47 lakh figure. They also called the report as untenable and unfortunate.
Paul told news agency PTI India has been telling WHO via diplomatic channels along with data and rational reasoning that it does not agree with the methodology that has been followed for India. He added WHO has used a methodology based on systematic collection of data on deaths for several nations.
Paul also explained that India uses Civil Registration System (CRS) for the purpose and it provides estimates from the ground, certified and validated by the district and state administration.
He furthermore said, “Modeling is a one-size-fits-all kind of an assumption that you apply. You may apply that where the systems are poor but to apply assumptions based on a subset of states, based on reports that come from websites and media reports and then you come out with an exorbitant number is not tenable. And we are disappointed by what the WHO has done.”
These assumptions used for a nation of India’s size and “to put us in poor light is not desirable,” he added. Dr Arora called the report unfortunate and said, “India has performed unexpectedly well in the management of COVID-19. In fact, many very prestigious journals across the world had predicted doon for India. They thought India will just collapse both as a nation as well as an economy and as a health system. But it never happened because we as a country came together and managed it very well.”
Dr Bhargava said, “The important thing is that when we had COVID deaths occurring, we did not have a definition of death. Even the WHO did not have any definition for death….So for that definition we looked at all the data that we had, and we came to the conclusion that 95 per cent of the deaths that occurred after testing positive for COVID-19 were occurring in the first four weeks. So a cutoff of 30 days was given for the definition of death.”
He furthermore noted, “Many countries don’t have this definition because this is dependent on given compensation and other issues. Therefore, we used this definition based on data…. So all that is systematically collected and once we have the systematic data, we do not need to rely on modeling and extrapolations and taking press reports and utilising them for putting them into a modeling exercise.”
Dr Guleria raised objections to the report and said that India has “very robust system of births and deaths registration” which the WHO hasn’t used. He further noted, “The second important issue is that the data that WHO has used is more on hearsay evidence, or what has been there in the media or from unconfirmed sources. That data itself is questionable. And to do a modeling on that data is not correct, and it’s not scientifically the right thing to do, especially when you have data.”
He also mentioned that India has offered compensation to people who died from COVID-19 in a liberal manner.
(With agency inputs)
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