By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The WHO data on global COVID-19 related deaths was finally out on May 5 despite Modi government’s best of efforts to stall its release which delayed it by at least four months. The actual data was more shocking than the leaked data a fortnight ago since it revealed one death reported while 10 actually died as against 8 in the leaked report. Even more shocking is the distinction that India has largest number of COVID-19 related deaths, while our beloved prime minister had tried time and again to convince us about the “success story” of his government in handling the crisis. Modi government refuted the WHO figure labelling it incorrect, on the same ground of methodology on the basis of which it had been contesting for months within the international forum, which were already rejected. People in general, the bereaved persons in particular who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19, and the entire opposition has condemned this government alleging “concealment and lie”.
India’s objection was already refuted by John Wakefield, a member of the Technical advisory Group of WHO, as “inaccurate”. “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 research paper methodology says. India only had data from 17 states and also it has no national all-cause mortality number and – for 2021 – only data for a few months were available. The paper also says that data for India was sourced from the registered number of deaths at the State and Union Territory levels that was either reported directly by the States through official reports and automatic vital registration, or by journalists who obtained death registration information through RTI requests.
Even before diving deep into the data released by WHO, the miserable condition of those bereaved persons, widows, orphans, physically challenged who have lost their loved ones who were only bread earner for them, must be taken note of. They have been waiting for compensations under the Disaster Management Act for which they are entitled and running pillar to post to get death certificates which is generally denied by the authorities in the helm of affairs. The guidelines of the Centre regarding declaration of death due to COVID-19 do not permit the officials to issue them the required death certificates. One can see the humanitarian crisis everywhere, if one wants to.
Even after the publication of the new WHO data, the attitude of Modi government is clear. It does not want to respond to the humanitarian crisis the bereaved ones are facing now on account of not being counted their patients deaths as impact of COVID-19. The government is strictly following its own debatable guidelines regarding declaration of deaths which covers only the deaths occurred within hospital framework at a time when India’s healthcare system was overwhelmed and large numbers of deaths were occurring outside and without access to hospitals, doctors, oxygen, and medicines etc. Moreover, the deaths due to co-morbidities, and the other medical conditions aggravated by COVID-19, and lack of access of medical care due to COVID-19 burden on hospitals, containment measures, lockdowns, curfew, lack of transport, and so on, were out of question to be counted. Dead bodies were being abandoned even on the riverbeds and into rivers. Obviously, there were excess of deaths than the deaths reported under the guidelines of the centre.
The new WHO data has tried to do away with some of the anomalies in reporting the actual deaths as an impact of COVID-19. Modi government’s rebuttal is thus not believable when it says that the WHO “figure is totally removed from reality”. The reality is that the Modi government’s figure itself is totally removed from reality, though it may have some technical basis which has become handy in concealing the actual deaths.
It is irony that Modi government has now said that the country has an “extremely robust” system of births and deaths registration while defending its own data. Where was such robust system when the government had informed the parliament of India that it had no data regarding death of migrant workers who had just perished while returning from the cities to their villages during the first phase of lockdown without preparation in 2020? Such deaths made headlines and the whole world was shocked. Again, during the second wave many patients died due to non supply of oxygen, making headlines again. However, later Modi government even denied such incidents in the parliament. Modi government has always been suspect of concealing the true picture.
Only two days ago India released its annual data for registration of births and deaths for the year 2020, recorded in its civil registration system (CRS) which showed about 4.75 lakh more deaths than in the previous year. For the same year the WHO data reveals 8.3 lakh excess deaths. Modi government has also defended its position on the basis of the CRS data. Since CRS does not categorise deaths by causes, the India’s defence is considered weak. Moreover, it presents a case of review of the functioning of the CRS.
Now the WHO has said in its report that between January 2020 and December 2021, there were 4.74 million “excess” Covid deaths in India – the maximum number that’s 10 times the official figures of 481,000 and almost a third of Covid deaths globally, the largest for any country in the world. As on May 6, India has reported just 523,975 deaths. India’s excess death figure is nearing five times the death reported by USA which is 1.02 million.
The new WHO estimates show that the full global death toll associated directly or indirectly with COVID-19 was approximately 14.9 million in the range of 13.3 million to 16.6 million. It obviously presents a case to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes, which not only points to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems. The excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.
Excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly due to the disease or indirectly due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society. Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries, WHO has said.
Modi government, therefore, must do something for providing compensation and other helps to those who had lost their beloved ones to COVID-19 or any other related reason, especially those who were bread earners of the family. They are in extremely miserable conditions, they need help, and Modi government must not deny it under any cover whatsoever. (IPA Service)