New Delhi: The Union health ministry on Thursday dismissed media reports based on a published research paper alleging that India’s COVID-19 mortality count is much higher than the official figure, which is “fallacious and completely inaccurate”.
The ministry said the country has a robust system of reporting deaths, including those caused by COVID-19, and the data is compiled regularly at different levels of governance, starting from the gram panchayat level to the district level and the state level.
“The reporting of deaths is regularly done in a transparent manner. All deaths are compiled by the Centre after being independently reported by states and UTs.
“To project that COVID deaths have been under-reported is without basis and devoid of justification,” the ministry said in a statement.
There have been some media reports based on a published research paper alleging that the Covid mortality count in India is much higher than the official figure and the actual numbers have been undercounted, it said.
The study estimates that the Covid death toll in the country till early November 2021 was between 32 lakh and 37 lakh, as compared to the official figure of 4.6 lakh.
“As has been stated earlier for similar media reports, it is again clarified that these reports are fallacious and completely inaccurate. They are not based on facts and are speculative in nature,” the statement issued by the ministry said.
Based on globally acceptable categorisation, the government has a comprehensive definition to classify Covid deaths, which has been shared with the states and the states are following it, the ministry added.
Furthermore, the government has been urging the states to update their mortality numbers in case certain deaths were not reported in time at the field level and hence, remains completely dedicated in getting the correct picture of the pandemic-related fatalities, it said.
The government has urged the states and Union territories through several formal communications, video-conferences and deployment of central teams for correct recording of deaths in accordance with the prescribed guidelines.
The Union health ministry has also regularly emphasised the need for a robust reporting mechanism for monitoring district-wise cases and deaths on a daily basis. Therefore, to project that Covid deaths have been under-reported is without a basis and devoid of any justification, the statement said.
The study quoted in the media reports has taken four distinct sub-populations – the population of Kerala, Indian Railways employees, MLAs and MPs, and school teachers in Karnataka — and uses a triangulation process to estimate the nationwide death count.
“Any such projections based on limited datasets and certain specific assumptions must be treated with extreme care before extrapolating the numbers by putting all states and country of the size of India in a single envelope. This exercise runs the risk of mapping skewed data of outliers together and is bound to give wrong estimations, thereby leading to fallacious conclusions,” the ministry said.
The sheer justification that the study has credence since its findings and estimates are in convergence with another study is baffling, defies logic and highlights the bias with which the article has been written, it added.
The media reports further claim that “experts believe India’s civil registration system is vulnerable to gaps. The current civil registration system has little interoperability with health information systems, there is potential for gaps in recording of deaths”.
It is reiterated that the government has followed a transparent approach regarding Covid data management and a robust system of recording all deaths caused by the viral disease already exists, the statement said.
In order to avoid inconsistency in the number of deaths being reported, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued the “Guidance for appropriate recording of COVID-19 related deaths in India” for correct recording of all deaths in accordance with the ICD-10 codes recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), it said.
The dates of COVID-19 cases and deaths are being put in the public domain on a daily basis since the outbreak of the pandemic and similarly, the states are releasing regular bulletins with all details, which are also in the public domain, the ministry said.
It is an established fact that there shall always be differences in the number of deaths recorded during a profound and prolonged public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and well-conducted research studies on mortalities are usually done after the event, when data on mortalities are available from reliable sources, it said, adding that the methodologies for such studies are well established, the data sources are defined as also the valid assumptions for computing mortality.
In the case of an analysis of Covid mortality in India, it must be noted that there is an added push in the country to capture and report all deaths caused by the disease due to the entitlement to monetary compensation of the next of kin of every Covid victim, the ministry said.
The entire process is being continuously monitored by the Supreme Court, it pointed out.
“Therefore, likelihood of under-reporting of COVID deaths in the country is significantly less. Hence, the conclusion that the ‘undercount’ is due to reluctance or inability of families and local authorities is fallacious and far from the truth,” the ministry said.
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