The Health Ministry issued a statement on Sunday, 17 April, in response to The New York Times’ report on India's COVID-19 death toll, saying that the methodology applied by the World Health Organization (WHO) to estimate mortality figures was "flawed" and "fails to take into account the vast geographical size and population of the country."
The NYT article titled 'India Is Stalling WHO's Efforts to Make Global Covid Death Toll Public' said that the global health agency believed the country's toll was at least four million, and not 520,000, as stated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Health Ministry said that it had raised concerns with the WHO over its 'one size fits all' model that was applicable for countries with a smaller population, such as Tunisia, but not for a country of 1.3 billion people.
"India's basic objection has not been with the result (whatever they might have been), but rather the methodology adopted for the same," the ministry said in its statement.
The ministry said that the analysis, which used mortality figures directly obtained from localities and household surveys in Tier I set of countries, employed a mathematical modelling process for Tier II countries (which includes India).
It added, "The model gives two highly different sets of excess mortality estimates of when using the data from Tier I countries and when using unverified data from 18 Indian states. Such a wide variation in estimates raises concerns about validity and accuracy of such a modelling exercise."
The statement added that India had conducted COVID-19 testing at a much faster rate, as advised by WHO, and maintained molecular testing as preferred testing methods whilst using the Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) for screening purposes.
"Whether these factors have been used in the model for India is still unanswered," the ministry stated.
What Did the Report Say?
The NYT report said that the WHO had calculated nearly 15 million COVID-19 global deaths by the end of 2021, and would publish the report later this month.
The new numbers highlighted that more than double the official total of six million reported by countries were previously uncounted deaths. It also accounted for indirect deaths – deaths caused due to lack of healthcare access during the pandemic.
However, the report stated that India accounted for nearly one-third of the additional nine million deaths. NYT also said that the release of the WHO data was delayed over India's "refusal to cooperate."
The report added that India had disputed the calculation of how many of its citizens died and had "tried to keep it from becoming public."
"India has not submitted its total mortality data to the WHO for the past two years, but the organisation's researchers have used numbers gathered from at least 12 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, which experts say show at least five to six times as many deaths as a result of Covid-19," the NYT report said.
The report quoted a government official's statement to the United Nations Statistical Commission in February: "India feels that the process was neither collaborative nor adequately representative."
It also argued that the process did not "hold scientific rigour and rational scrutiny as expected from an organisation of the stature of the World Health Organization."
40 Lakh Deaths Due to Govt Negligence: Rahul Gandhi
Sharing the NYT report on Twitter, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday, 17 April accused the Narendra Modi-led central government of 'negligence'.
“Modi ji neither speaks the truth nor lets him speak. They still lie that no one died due to oxygen shortage! I had said earlier also - due to the negligence of the government in Covid, not 5 lakh, 40 lakh Indians died. Fulfill your duty, Modi ji - Give compensation of ₹4 lakh to every victim's family," he said in his tweet.
Congress has repeatedly accused the government of underreporting the actual COVID-19 death figures in the country.