India Condemns World Health Organization for ‘Unscientific’ Coronavirus Modeling

A medical worker in PPE observes patients who have been infected by Covid-19 inside a makeshift covid care facility in a sports stadium at the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi on May 02, 2021 in New Delhi, India. With cases crossing 400,000 a day and with more than 3500 …
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The government of India on Tuesday accused the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) of using “erroneous assumptions” and an “unscientific” model to extrapolate the true mortality rate from India’s coronavirus pandemic. W.H.O.’s estimate was almost double the official tally produced by Indian health officials.

The Times of India (TOI) summarized the complaint presented by the Indian administration to a meeting of Parliament on Tuesday:

India had objected to the ‘one size fits all’ approach adopted by the W.H.O as it might be true for smaller countries but cannot be applied to a huge and diverse country like India which had varied case trajectory across multiple states and at different periods during the pandemic, Minister of State for Health Bharati Pravin Pawar said in a written reply.

As on July 16, 2022, as reported by states and UTs, 5,25,660 deaths due to Covid-19 have been reported in the country, the reply said quoting India’s official data.

The WHO, based on a mathematical modeling exercise, has, however, projected an estimate of about 47 lakh excess deaths in India associated directly or indirectly with the Covid-19 pandemic, between January 1 2020 and December 31, 2021. This is primarily an estimate of deaths due to all causes which includes deaths due to Covid-19 also.

Lakh is an Indian unit of measure meaning 100,000, so the TOI was reporting that W.H.O. believes the true total of Indian coronavirus fatalities is about 4.7 million higher than the official 5.2 million figure.

A health worker poses at a vaccination center administrating third ‘booster’ doses for the Covid-19 coronavirus in New Delhi on January 10, 2022. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

W.H.O. has long accused India of dramatically undercounting coronavirus deaths, a criticism taken up by the Indian opposition as a cudgel against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party. As opposition leader Rahul Gandhi noted in May, India has the largest W.H.O. “excess mortality” figure for any nation, several times the size of runner-up Russia.

The Associated Press

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization speaks during a news conference on updates regarding on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 9, 2020.  (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

“Science doesn’t lie. Modi does,” Gandhi charged, demanding government compensation for the additional coronavirus victims counted by W.H.O.

The Associated Press

This photograph released by India’s Press Information Bureau shows Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking during a virtual summit with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, March 21, 2022. (Press Information Bureau via AP)

“The mathematical modeling based approach by WHO suffered from a number of inconsistencies and erroneous assumptions,” Health Minister Pravin Pawar said in her letter to Parliament.


Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressing supporters at an event to unveil the party’s election manifesto in New Delhi. (AFP/PRAKASH SINGH)

“India had highlighted against the classification of certain countries under tier-1 while they had displayed data inconsistencies in reporting and placing India under tier 2 while India has followed a robust system of data reporting,” she wrote.

Pawar also accused W.H.O. of extrapolating from a limited dataset of only 17 Indian states, using data collected at different times and with different methods, and projecting results from very different national environments onto India.

India’s Central Council of Health and Family Welfare backed up Pawar’s complaints, unanimously passing a resolution to condemn W.H.O.’s methodology.

India is currently in the midst of a coronavirus case surge, even as Prime Minister Modi on Sunday celebrated reaching the milestone of 2 billion (or 200 crore, to use another Indian unit of measure) vaccinations plus booster shots:

According to data from the Indian health ministry, 20,528 new cases and 49 more coronavirus deaths were recorded on the day Modi posted his triumphant tweet, the highest totals since February. New cases and deaths declined to 15,528 with 25 deaths reported on Tuesday alone.


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