The Union health ministry on Friday said that the study published in an international journal claiming the the Covid-19 mortality in India is higher than official counts is speculative and misinformed.
The recently published study has provided estimates of all cause excess mortality for a number of countries based on a mathematical modelling exercise. The study has concluded that although the reported Covid-19 deaths between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, totalled 5.94 million worldwide, but an estimated 18.2 million (95 per cent uncertainty interval 17.1-19.6) people died worldwide because of the Covid-19 pandemic (as measured by excess mortality) over that period.
The ministry said that such predictions are founded on certain sets of inputs either based on real world scenarios, or approximations of those inputs that are not available. The study takes into account different methodologies for different countries and for India, for example, data sources used by this study appear to have been taken from newspaper reports and non-peer reviewed studies. This model uses data of all cause excess mortality, created by another non-peer reviewed model, as an input and this raises serious concerns about the accuracy of the results of this statistical exercise, said the health ministry in a statement.
"Detailed guidelines for reporting of deaths due to Covid-19 have been issued by Union Health Ministry to all States and UTs. Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) on May 10, 2020 issued 'Guidance for appropriate recording of Covid-19 related deaths in India'. The reporting of deaths is regularly done in a transparent manner and is daily updated in public domain on the website of Union Ministry of Health. Even the backlog in Covid-19 mortality data being submitted by the States at different times is reconciled in the data of Government of India on a regular basis", said the ministry.
The ministry also clarified in the statement that there is a financial incentive in India to report Covid-19 deaths as they are entitled to monetary compensation. Hence, the likelihood of underreporting is less.
"Further they have mentioned that as studies from a few selected countries including the Netherlands and Sweden have suggested, we suspect most of the excess mortality during the pandemic is from Covid-19. However, sufficient empirical evidence is absent in most countries. Given the high amount of heterogeneity in epidemiological profiles among countries, it is prudent not to make such strong assumptions before more research on this topic is done", the ministry added.
Further, the ministry highlighted that the authors have themselves admitted that "Finally, the development and deployment of SARS-COV-2 vaccines have considerably lowered mortality rates among people who contract the virus and among the general population. As a result, we expect trends in excess mortality due to Covid-19 to change over time as the coverage of vaccination increases among populations and as new variants emerge. There will be great value in continuing to estimate excess mortality over time as these and other factors shift."
The health ministry said that quoting issues as sensitive as death during an ongoing global health crisis should be dealt with facts and required sensitivity. This type of speculative reporting has the potential to create panic in the community and can misguide people and should be avoided.