More than 4.7 million people in India – nearly 10 times higher than official records suggest – are thought to have died because of Covid-19, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report. India’s government has rejected the figure, saying the methodology is flawed. Will we ever know how many Indians died in the pandemic?
In November 2020, researchers at the World Mortality Dataset – a global repository that provides updated data on deaths from all causes – asked authorities in India to provide information. “These are not available,” India’s main statistical office told the researchers, according to Ariel Karlinsky, a scientist who co-created the dataset and is a member of an advisory group set up by the the WHO for its estimates of excess deaths caused by Covid globally during 2020 and 2021. Excess deaths are a simple measure of how many more people are dying than expected compared with previous years. Although it is difficult to say how many of these deaths were due to Covid, they can be considered a measure of the scale and toll of the pandemic.