Epidemiologist Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto completed an analysis of India’s mortality data this week and concluded the true number of coronavirus deaths in the country is “substantially greater” than health officials reported.
Jha argues the true number of coronavirus fatalities in India is nearly 3 million – about six times higher than the official count.
“I think it does call for a recalibration of the global numbers plus saying, ‘What the heck is going on in India?” Jha told Science, which published his work on Thursday.
Science suggested the revised Indian numbers could “prompt scrutiny of other countries with anomalously low death rates and push up the current worldwide pandemic total, estimated by the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) at some 5.45 million people.”
If Jha’s work is verified and other countries are proven to have provided similar undercounts, the fallout for media and politicians, as well as the scientific community, would be enormous. A huge amount of health policy, economic policy, and even elections across the free world for the past two years was driven by assertions that certain countries had lower Chinese coronavirus death tolls than others.
Science noted a study using methodology similar to Jha’s found Russia’s true total of coronavirus deaths is at least 4.5 times higher than the official count, for example, and researchers accuse authoritarian governments in places like Nicaragua, Belarus, and Egypt of fudging their numbers in the same way.
Russia at 1.04 MILLION excess deaths since March 2020, which is about 240% higher than their reported COVID-19 deaths.
— Ariel Karlinsky (@ArielKarlinsky) January 2, 2022
The world always should have known better than to trust proven-liar regimes like China, Russia, or Iran to report their coronavirus numbers accurately – but a great deal of lockdown policy in the West was driven by organizations like W.H.O. accepting potentially – and sometimes admittedly – corrupt data from authoritarians, without independent verification.
Even if asterisks were appended to some of the numbers to show they were questionable, there was a general trend of treating some countries as better or worse coronavirus fighters based on the numbers they reported.
In the case of India, Jha questioned the “unusually low mortality rate” of 340 coronavirus deaths per million touted by India, a rate only one-seventh of per capita coronavirus deaths in the United States. He looked at independent polls that asked Indian citizens if anyone in their household had died from Chinese coronavirus, pored over reports submitted by hospitals, and counted death certificates to produce a true total of between 2,300 and 2,500 deaths per million as of September, which is much closer to the U.S. mortality rate.
Jha bluntly accused the administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “trying to suppress the numbers” for political reasons.
“I think the political pressures were such that they said, ‘Anything that’s going to come out is going to be embarrassing,’” Jha ventured.
Science quoted other epidemiologists who cut Modi a little slack by noting India’s reporting systems are notoriously slow and “disorganized,” so Indian officials made some bad decisions based on poor data.
“India paid a heavy price for not having good real-time data on deaths, especially during the first wave. That led to complacency and a terrible toll in the second wave,” said Ashoka University virologist Shahid Jameel.
Princeton University epidemiologist Ramanan Laxminarayan proposed that “all governments want to downplay the degree of deaths,” but arguably the U.S. and some other Western governments sought to exaggerate the number of deaths and coronavirus cases for political reasons.
American media consumers are wearily familiar with reports that treat “died with” and “died of” coronavirus as synonymous. The flagging political fortunes of the Democrat Party prompted a dizzying 180-degree turn in the way coronavirus cases and deaths are counted in the final days of 2021. Prominent left-wing politicians are suddenly asking if a person in the hospital for a car crash should be counted as a coronavirus death because he tested positive – a challenge to official methodology considered heretical a few months ago.