Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Covid dichotomy

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) has put the number of Covid-19 deaths in India at around 4.7 million or 47 lakh, which the highest in the world, the government of India has, for the second time, not only disputed the figure but questioned the methodology adopted by the WHO. According to the WHO, the deaths could be directly due to the disease or indirectly caused by the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society. The WHO report pegs Covid deaths in India at precisely 47,40,894 during 2020 and 2021. The figure brought up by the WHO means that Covid deaths in India is ten times higher than the official count of 4,81,486 between January 1,2020 and December 31,2021. India had released the Civil Registration System (CRS) report on births and deaths by the Registrar General of India (RGI) earlier in the first week of May. India said that registration of births and deaths in the country is extremely ‘robust’ and is governed by decades-old statutory legal framework – Births & Deaths Registration Act, 1969. According to the union health ministry, the WHO had somehow ignored the available data submitted by the government of India and instead published excess mortality estimates through methodology which India had questioned. WHO said its methodology was based on variety of sources for the registered number of deaths at the state and union territory level. WHO said it obtained information which were either reported directly by the states through official reports and automatic vital registration, or by journalists who obtained death registration information through Right To Information requests. The government of India, under Modi, has been faulted with missteps while dealing with Covid pandemic. There is a long list ranging from failure in taking preparatory steps while declaring nationwide lockdown, providing needed health back up to states, suppressing facts and data to under report. These under reporting of COVID-19 cases in India may stem from the government’s political interest to suggest that its strategy on COVID-19 has paid off. On May 15,2021 the government disclosed that there were 86,000 COVID-19 cases in India whereas, as per the sero survey report by a panel formed by its own Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) but which was not revealed, indicated that there were in fact 60 lakh COVID-19 cases during the same period. Even when eminent virologists and epidemiologists had said that based on their studies, the virus was spreading through community transmission, the government refused to admit it. One of several loopholes in the ICMR methodology was about sample testing. Several scientists pointed to a typical example of daily ICMR reporting – “a total of 2,74,599 samples from 2,58,730 individuals have been tested. Of this, 11,297 individuals have been tested positive among the suspected cases and known positive cases in India.” They pointed out that above lack of details in the bulletin was a problem since it didn’t specify how many of these were asymptomatic or largely asymptomatic. This fact has been in public domain since 2021 including why then union minister of health Dr. Harsh Vardhan was dropped. Thus, if India believes the methodology of WHO is suspect, it should provide its side of the story as those who have died needed to be recognised and not buried for political reputation.

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