‘India has robust system’: Govt refutes claims of undercounting Covid-19 deaths

Highlighting recent media reports alleging that India’s toll of excess deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic could be in millions, the government said that US and European countries’ age-specific infection fatality rates have been used to calculate excess deaths in India based on the seropositivity.

Amid the rising coronavirus disease (Covid-19) death toll in India, the central government on Thursday questioned reports which claim that the number of fatalities from the virus in the country has been ‘vastly undercounted’. Refuting such allegations, the government said that the guidelines laid down by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in this regard are being followed and that the Union health ministry has always advised states to conduct death audits in their hospitals to report any cases of death that may have been missed.

Highlighting the recent media reports alleging that India’s toll of excess deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic could be in millions, the government said that US and European countries’ age-specific infection fatality rates have been used to calculate excess deaths in India based on the seropositivity.

“The extrapolation of deaths has been done on an audacious assumption that the likelihood of any given infected person dying is the same across countries, dismissing the interplay between various direct and indirect factors such as race, ethnicity, the genomic constitution of a population, previous exposure levels to other diseases and the associated immunity developed in that population,” the press release detailed, elaborating on the issues with these reports which quoted findings from recent studies.

The seroprevalence studies, the government explained, also have another potential concern that the antibody titers may diminish over time, leading to underestimation of true prevalence and the corresponding overestimation of infection fatality rate.

Moreover, these reports assume that all the excess mortality figures are Covid-19 deaths, which is incorrect. “Excess mortality is a term used to describe an all-cause mortality figure and attributing these deaths to Covid-19 is completely misleading,” the release stated.

These ICMR guidelines are, in turn, issued as per ICD-10 codes recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for monitoring.

Notably, Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya refuted allegations of the ministry hiding Covid-19 deaths, in his statement at the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. The central government only compiles and publishes data sent by the state governments, he added.

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