ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has dispelled the varying general perceptions in the country about the deaths due to Covid-19 pandemic and claimed that its data is accurate and has been verified by the defunct National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) through analysis of graveyard data of major cities.

While it is generally believed that more people died of Covid-19 in Pakistan than the numbers released by the government, an analysis of graveyards across major cities has not shown the mortality above the official figures, a senior official of the ministry said.

Similarly, there is a section of people in the country who believe that the previous government had used the pandemic for political objectives and it had always presented exaggerated figures about the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths due to the disease.

However, Sajid Shah, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), said that while heath indicators never remained reliable in Pakistan, the country had been at the forefront of decision making using data and analytics since the onset of the pandemic. Every number reported along with supporting data has been backed up with reliable mechanisms.

“A reporting mechanism is set in place whereby every Covid-19 related death is reported at the district level which is then collated at the provincial level by the respective healthcare systems, and finally a cumulative number is shared at the national level,” he said.

The defunct National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) data showed that 28,000 people had succumbed to the virus. However, it is a general perception that more people lost their lives due to the virus but could not be reported because of the faulty mechanism of collecting data.

Mr Shah said as a nation with a 97pc majority of Muslims, most fatalities were buried and a record was maintained about every burial within a specific graveyard. The maintenance of burial data, including the date, time and location, is the standard procedure that all graveyards follow.

“A mortality comparison was carried out to effectively check the monthly cumulative deaths recorded in the past three years. The mortality audit carried out by the defunct NCOC critically looked at the graveyard data of big cities. There was a rise in deaths corresponding to each wave (which showed an increasing number of Covid-19 cases overall) that hit Pakistan but the cumulative number for the past two years did not witness an exponential increase,” he said.

“Accurate modelling of infectious diseases requires thorough understanding of ground facts and merely banking on hardcore stats with unrealistic assumptions could be grossly misleading. Many developing countries had, therefore, stressed international modellers to work closely with local teams to interpret statistical data in correct perspectives. Pakistan’s system of disease and death reporting was meticulously designed with the help of provincial and local authorities and included thousands of reporting entities with built in mechanisms of cross verifications,” he said.

“All this information was fed into the main dashboard at the NCOC. Additionally, there was a detailed graveyard analysis across major cities that did not show mortality above what was being captured officially. So while no system of mortality reporting is perfect, in a country like Pakistan with most fatalities being buried, our reporting system was very close to actual numbers,” he said.

The official said in conclusion the death count in Pakistan was verifiable and accepted globally.

“Multiple checks and balances on the reporting systems are in place and the extra deaths reported in graveyards coincide with the Covid-19 waves that hit the country. Pakistan’s Covid-19 pandemic response strategy’s core focus is dependent on verifiable data points to implement interventions. Any stark under-reporting of figures, be it new cases of infection, hospital admissions or death counts, would have compromised Pakistan’s track record of a successful Covid-19 response which continues to be lauded across the globe,” he said.

“In fact, Pakistan’s secretary health has been invited as a keynote speaker on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly later this month to enunciate Pakistan’s successful Covid-19 response and help draw lessons for the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, new estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) showed that the full global death toll associated directly or indirectly with the Covid-19 pandemic (described as excess mortality) between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021, was about 14.9 million.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2022

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