The world witnessed 1.4 crore Covid-19 excess deaths between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, the new estimates released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show. Nearly half of them, around 47 lakh excess deaths, happened in India, claims the report, though the government has questioned these claims.

As per the global health body, the excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 “directly due to the disease” or “indirectly due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society”. The WHO calculated the excess mortality as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic, based on data from earlier years.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, says this data proves that countries need to “invest in more resilient health systems”, including stronger health information systems. “The WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. Other factors that may have influenced the number could also be deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries, says the WHO.

Region-wise, Twenty countries, representing approximately 50% of the global population, account for over 80% of the estimated global excess mortality for January 2020 to December 2021 period. These countries are Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, the Russian Federation, South Africa, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States of America (USA).

Around 84% of the excess deaths happened in south-east Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the WHO report claims. Some 68% of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally. Most excess deaths happened in middle-income countries (81%), followed lower-middle-income nations (53%) and upper-middle-income nations (28%).

The global death toll was higher for men at 57% than for women at 43% female and even higher among older adults. Dr Samira Asma, assistant director-general for data, analytics and delivery at WHO, said measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understand the impact of the pandemic. She said because of limited investments in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden.

Meanwhile, the Centre has questioned the validity and robustness of these claims, saying it "strongly objects" to the use of mathematical models for projecting excess mortality estimates in view of the availability of authentic data. "India has been consistently objecting to the methodology adopted by WHO to project excess mortality estimates based on mathematical models. Despite India’s objection to the process, methodology and outcome of this modelling exercise, WHO has released the excess mortality estimates without adequately addressing India’s concerns," says the health ministry.

The WHO says these estimates were produced as a result of a global collaboration, which comprises many of the world's leading experts. The group is convened by the WHO and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

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