Reports claiming underreporting of Covid deaths fallacious: Government

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India has a robust system of birth and death reporting which is based on a statute and is carried out regularly from the gram panchayat to the state level, the government said on Friday, amid a political controversy on alleged undercounting of Covid-19 deaths.

The government defended India’s Covid-19 death reporting after a report in the journal Science by prominent epidemiologist Prabhat Jha of University of Toronto. The report said India has “substantially greater” Covid-19 deaths than the officially reported numbers and that the World Health Organization did not trust the Covid-19 mortality figures put out by India.

The government termed the news report as fallacious, ill-informed and mischievous in nature.

“The Government of India has a very comprehensive definition to classify Covid deaths, based on globally acceptable categorisation,” it said.

While punching holes in the study conducted by Jha and his team, the ministry of health and family welfare said there is an incentive to report Covid deaths in India because there is a monetary compensation to the kin. “Hence, the likelihood of underreporting is less. During a disruptive situation like the pandemic, the actual mortality could be more than the reported deaths due to many factors, even in the most robust health systems. However, any analysis with the view to deduce information collected from extremely varied caseload and outcome situations among Indian states is bound to be incomplete and incorrect.”

States have Regularly Reconciled Deaths

The controversy became political as senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to post the link of a video interview with Jha and say: “GOI lies. World Knows. India suffers.”

In the interview, Jha had made an appeal to the Registrar General of India (RGI) to include a question on Covid-19 deaths in the forthcoming Census exercise. The ministry said the whole exercise of reporting deaths is carried out under the overall oversight of the RGI.

“All deaths are being independently reported by states and are being compiled centrally. The backlog in Covid-19 mortality data being submitted by the states at different times are being reconciled in the data of Government of India on a regular basis,” it said in a news release.

A number of states have regularly reconciled their death numbers and have reported arrear deaths in a broadly transparent manner. Therefore, to project that deaths have been under-reported is without basis and without justification, it added.

The ministry clarified that there is an “extreme difference” in Covid case load and linked mortality between Indian states. “Any assumptions putting all states in one envelope would mean mapping skewed data of outliers together with states reporting lowest mortality which is bound to stretch the median towards higher and wrong results,” it said.

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