India hid 3.5 million COVID deaths, shows WHO data

India hid 3.5 million COVID deaths
Cremation of dead due to COVID-19 in New Delhi. Photo: Meer Fasial/Maktoob

The World Health Organisation data shows India’s coronavirus death toll is at least four million while India has stood by its own count of about 520,000, The New York Times reported.

The WHO data would give India the highest tally in the world.

The WHO calculation combined national data on reported deaths with new information from localities and household surveys, and with statistical models that aim to account for deaths that were uncounted or missed, according to NYT.

The UN health agency has calculated that 15 million people have died as a result of the pandemic across globe by the end of 2021, far more than earlier estimates, but has yet to release those numbers.

It is more than double the official total of six million reported by countries individually.

More than a third of the additional nine million deaths are estimated to have occurred in India, UN agency claims.

The NYT reports that the WHO data is a result of more than a year of research and analysis by experts around the world and the most comprehensive look at the lethality of the pandemic to date — has been delayed for months because of objections from India, which disputes the calculation of how many of its citizens died and has tried to keep it from becoming public.

The WHO had planned to make the numbers public in January but the release has continually been pushed back.

“We aim to publish in April,” a WHO spokeswoman, Amna Smailbegovic, told the daily.

India insists that the UN health agency’s methodology is flawed.

“India feels that the process was neither collaborative nor adequately representative,” the Narendra Modi government said in a statement to the United Nations Statistical Commission in February this year.

The BJP government also argued that the WHO’s process did not “hold scientific rigor and rational scrutiny as expected from an organization of the stature of the World Health Organization.”

India’s public health response to COVID-19 pandemic has been criticized for overconfidence and lack of timely interventions.

The country also witnessed the attempts by Union government to silence critical voices within country’s elite science institutions.

In April 2021, a devastating second wave hit in India. Hospitals had to turn patients away and oxygen ran out. Many deaths went uncounted.

Besides India, there are other large countries where the data is also uncertain. China, where the pandemic began, does not publicly release mortality data, and some experts have raised questions about underreporting of deaths, especially at the beginning of the outbreak. China has officially reported fewer than 5,000 deaths from the virus.