More than 47 lakh citizens of India are thought to have died of coronavirus till the end of 2021, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, according to the BBC.

The toll is nearly 10 times more than official number. The Union Health Ministry has claimed that 4,81,000 citizens have died between January 2020 and December 2021. Till Thursday, 5,23,975 persons had died of the disease in India, the ministry said.

The global health body made the statement in a report on excess coronavirus deaths across the world in 2020 and 2021.

Excess deaths are the divergence between all-cause deaths reported during pandemic years and in normal years. The numbers are an indicator of undercounting of deaths caused by Covid-19.

The World Health Organization estimated the excess mortalities by calculating 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”.

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that India was among 20 countries that accounted for more than 80% of the estimated excess global deaths between 2020 and 2021.

The other countries are Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States. These countries together account for about 50% of the world’s population.

Soon after the findings were released, the Union Health Ministry said that “the validity and robustness of the models that the World Health Organization used [to determine excess deaths] were questionable”.

Mathematical models should not be used to predict excess deaths in India, especially when authentic data was published through the Civil Registration System, the ministry said.

The Civil Registration System is a nationwide system of recording all births and deaths, led by the Office of the Registrar General of India and implemented at the state level by state governments. The Civil Registration System is meant to record all deaths from all causes and all locations, whether they were medically certified or not.

“The CRS data of 2020 published by RGI [registrar general of India] on 3rd May 2022 clearly reveals that the narrative sought to be created based on various modelling estimates of India’s Covid-19 deaths being many times the reported figure is totally removed from reality,” the health ministry said.

The data released by the Civil Registration System was shared with the World Health Organization for the excess deaths reports, the ministry said.

“WHO for reasons best known to them conveniently chose to ignore the available data submitted by India and published the excess mortality estimates for which the methodology, source of data, and the outcomes have been consistently questioned by India,” the ministry added.

In November 2020, experts from World Mortality Dataset, a global repository of data on deaths from all causes, asked India to provide information on the fatalities, the BBC reported.

The data was unavailable, India’s statistical office had allegedly told Ariel Karlinsky, the co-creator of World Mortality Dataset.

Also read: India delaying publication of WHO’s estimates on global Covid-19 deaths, says report

Global figures

The organisation said that globally, the toll associated directly or indirectly with the coronavirus in 2020 and 2021 was about 1.49 crore (with a range between 1.33 crore and 1.66 crore).

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” the global health body’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Corrections and clarifications: This article has been edited to reflect the fact that close to 47 lakh people died in the pandemic in India, not 47 crore as stated previously.