Skip to main content

Lancet editorial 'lacks' scientific robustness in calling India's Covid data untrustworthy

Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD*  

The editorial, "India's ascendency: leadership demands integrity," published in Lancet, Vol 401, May 6, 2023 (click here for Counterview report) is a half baked political commentary more in the nature of an armchair exercise missing the finer nuances of the political situation on the ground. Regrettably, the editorial also alleges that the Covid-19 data from India is untrustworthy. These are sweeping statements which are speculative on the political issues and bad science as well as the estimates of Covid-19 deaths by World Health Organization (WHO) are inferred from dubious mathematical models rather than hard population level data. Before elaborating how the editorial is wide off the mark on both politics and science it would be relevant to discuss whether political commentaries should find a place in medical journals.
The association between politics and pandemics was first emphasized by Rudolf Virchow in 1848. His observations while investigating the pandemic of typhus in Europe in the nineteenth century drove a paradigm shift in understanding human disease at the population level. 
Beyond the narrow concept of pathogen as the sole cause of pandemics, Virchow stressed the importance of social and economic conditions such as poverty, poor civil services, ignorance, illiteracy, and other socioeconomic factors. These observations, all of which called for political action made him sum up with the famous words, "Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing but medicine on a large scale.”
Against this background it may be relevant for political commentaries to find a place in medical journals. Having said this, it is important to consider who is competent to write these in an objective and unbiased manner. Even in scientific papers, Richard Horton, the editor of Lancet had conceded that the choice of papers in Western medical journals has a racist bias, giving the diseases of poverty a lower preference. This renders the contents, both scientific and political, of the Lancet highly unrepresentative and biased. They tend to be amateurish with shallow insights ignoring different perspectives.
What is more dismaying is that the editorial lacks scientific robustness in calling the Covid-19 data "wholly untrustworthy." It states that the official government figures place deaths at 530000 while WHO excess death estimates are near 4.7 million. It conveniently overlooks that the WHO figures are based on dubious mathematical models rather than ground level robust data.
For example, estimates of number of deaths in India from Covid-19 based on serosurvey data from the field reassures us that the Indian government figures are authentic. Ioannides, early in the pandemic, based on population level serosurveys inferred that the infection fatality rate (IFR), for persons below 70 years was in the range of 0.03% to 0.04%. Majority of the Indian population, over 97% are below 70 years of age. 
Estimates of number of deaths from Covid-19 based on serosurvey data from the field reassures us that Indian government figures are authentic
As a rule of thumb if we apply the 0.04% IFR and extrapolate the rate to the total Indian population (around 1400000000), the total estimated deaths is 560000, very near to the official Indian figure of 530000 mentioned in the Lancet editorial. In fact, deaths in India may be still lower due to its much lower obesity rates compared to Western populations.
It is evident that the Lancet and other leading journals from the West need a course correction by encouraging diverse views on complex political situations, the nuances of which will be missed by Western authors. Surprisingly, it is getting the science wrong too, as illustrated by the Covid-19 inflated death rates in its commentary. Such lapses call for more diligent homework on the part of leading medical journals before being judgmental and using derogatory terms like “wholly untrustworthy."
A more balanced view, in case the Lancet wanted to discuss politics in relation to health would have been to stress the negative influence of politics & corruption in suppressing science leading to huge collateral harms and economic setbacks. A BMJ editorial poignantly states that when good science is suppressed by politics and corruption, people die. Draconian measures which were adopted in Western countries killed people in poor countries due to the immense collateral harm. 
The papers published in leading Western medical journals, under the influence of politics and corruption, misguided the world in adopting the same measures in their own countries with different epidemiology. The biggest price was paid by the poor in all countries. 
The Lancet itself has been responsible for the biggest publishing scam in recent history when it published a paper based on fake data to tarnish the image of a cheap drug like hydroxychloroquine in early treatment of Covid-19. Later the paper had to be retracted. Now, who is “wholly untrustworthy?”
*Post doctoral in epidemiology who was a field epidemiologist for over two decades in the Indian Armed Forces. He also led the mobile epidemic investigation team at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, India from 2000 to 2004. During this period he investigated a number of outbreaks in different parts of the country. He was awarded for his work on Tribal Malaria and Viral Hepatitis E. He presently is a Professor in a Medical College in Pune



'Draconian' Kerala health law follows WHO diktat: Govt readies to take harsh measures

By Dr Maya Valecha*  The Governor of Kerala has signed the Kerala Public Health Bill, which essentially reverses the people’s campaign in healthcare services in Kerala for decentralisation. The campaign had led to relinquishing of state powers in 1996, resulting in improvement of health parameters in Kerala. Instead, now, enforcement of law through the exercise of power, fines, etc., and the implementation of protocol during the pandemic, are considered of prime importance.

Reject WHO's 'draconian' amendments on pandemic: Citizens to Union Health Minister

By Our Representative  Several concerned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister to reject amendments to the International Health Regulations (IHR) of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted during the 75th World Health Assembly (WHA75) in May 2022, apprehending this will make the signatories surrender their autonomy to the “unelected, unaccountable and the whimsical WHO in case of any future ‘pandemics’.”

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

Bihar rural women entrepreneurs witness 50% surge in awareness about renewal energy

By Mignonne Dsouza*  An endline survey conducted under the Bolega Bihar initiative revealed a significant increase in awareness of renewable energy among women, rising from 25% to 76% in Nalanda and Gaya. Renu Kumari, a 34-year-old entrepreneur from Nalanda, Bihar, operates a village eatery that serves as the primary source of income for her family, including her husband and five children. However, a significant portion of her profits was being directed toward covering monthly electricity expenses that usually reach Rs 2,000. 

Work with Rajasthan's camel herders: German scientist wins World Cookbook Award 2023

By Rosamma Thomas*  Gourmand World Cookbook Awards are the only awards for international food culture. This year, German scientist  Ilse Kohler Rollefson , founder of Camel Charisma, the first of India’s camel dairies, in Pali district of Rajasthan, won the award for her work with camel herders in Rajasthan, and for preparing for the UN International Year of Camelids, 2024. 

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Why is electricity tariff going up in India? Who is the beneficiary? A random reflection

By Thomas Franco*  Union Ministry of Power has used its power under Section 11 of the Electricity Act, 2003 to force States to import coal which has led to an increase in the cost of electricity production and every consumer is paying a higher tariff. In India, almost everybody from farmers to MSMEs are consumers of electricity.

'Pro-corporate agenda': Odisha crackdown on tribal slum dwellers fighting for land rights

By Our Representative  The civil rights network Campaign Against State Repression (CASR), even as condemning what it calls “brutal repression” on the Adivasi slum dwellers of Salia Sahi in Bhubaneshwar by the Odisha police, has said that the crackdown was against the tribals struggling for land rights in order to “stop the attempts at land-grab by the government.”

Deplorable, influential sections 'still believe' burning coal is essential indefinitely

By Shankar Sharma*  Some of the recent developments in the power sector, as some  recent news items show, should be of massive relevance/ interest to our policy makers in India. Assuming that our authorities are officially mandated/ committed to maintain a holistic approach to the overall welfare of all sections of our society, including the flora, fauna and general environment, these developments/ experiences from different parts of the globe should be clear pointers to the sustainable energy pathways for our people.

Hazrat Aisha’s age was 16, not 6: 'Weak' Hadith responsible for controversy

Sacred chamber where Prophet and Aisha used to live By Dr Mike Ghouse* Muslims must take the responsibility to end the age-old controversy about Hazrat Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet (pbuh) – it was 16, not 6 (minimum was 16, Max 23 per different calculations). The Hadiths published were in good faith, but no one ever checked their authenticity, and they kept passing on from scholar to scholar and book to book.  Thanks to 9/11, Muslims have started questioning and correcting the Hadiths, Seerah, and mistranslations of the Quran. Now, the Ulema have to issue an opinion, also known as Fatwa, to end it and remove those Hadith entries. Mustafa Akyol, a scholar of Islam, implores Muslims to stop deifying “the received traditions” and critically study their religious past, shedding rigid legalism and close-mindedness. Someone else used the phrase “copycat Muslims” to identify scholars who copied what was given to them and passed it on without researching or questioni