“Oh. God. Look at India! How horrible.” This is the refrain I hear from some of the world’s free media.
They mean well. Probably. Without them, most of the truths about the world would lie buried under piles of hypernationalistic, ethno-chest-beating crap. The free media is indeed a modern-day wonder. The fact that such a thing exists, fills me with hope.
But the way some harp on the miseries of the ‘third world’ often irks me. I remember a BBC interview with a leading scientist, when India sent its first spaceship to Mars. It was about how cheaply we did it. The discussion quickly got side-lined into a technical talk on how minute we can make satellites nowadays. No comment about the remarkable nature of the achievement.
The Covid situation in India is indeed, horrible. There is no other way to describe it. But there are some facts about the world that every human should know, before we evaluate any geo political news.
The “Western angle” is inherently flawed.
One key number to remember about the world is- (1- 1- 1- 4). In billions. Get that into your skulls. Out of the seven billion people in the world, one billion are in the Americas- North and South put together. One billion each for Europe (along with Oceania), and Africa. A whopping four billion people of the world reside in Asia, mostly in India and China. This is the world’s angle. When we speak about humanity, this is the centre.
Is India poor?- yes. And if so, so is China.
When we look at Gross Domestic Product by PPP, China comes first. Then Comes the United States, and India is third. This gives any journalist with perspective blindness, a false sense of equivalence.
But- look at per person figures as per purchasing power parity (PPP).
Among a list of 190 countries, India is 120th! And China comes at 80. We are poor. A man in Europe or the US, has approximately SEVEN TO TWENTY TIMES the purchasing power of a man in India. A Chinese man has just double the purchasing power of an Indian.
An average European country spends ten to fifteen percent of its annual budget on health, most of it available freely to the public. The United States spends a whopping twenty percent of its budget, and a full ten percent is for free public health.
And how much do India spend on public funded health?
Less than one percent.
So, you do the math. A life in India is worth maybe one hundredth of that of a life in Europe.
Oh- Politically incorrect, you mean? ALL lives are equally valuable? Do you ‘believe’ that all humans are created equal?
Sorry, guys. Come back to the real world. With a thud. I know. The ass pains when it hits the ground. Everyone DESERVES equal care, but they are sure as hell, not getting it.
Why are the people of European origin far richer?
This is an easy one to answer, for anyone who knows high school history. Something called the enlightenment came first to Europe, they started to learn and think and create, invented science, sailed the seas, started the industrial revolution, conquered most of the world, traded and profited from slave labour. They also took over The Americas, Australia and New Zealand, killed all the inhabitants, and made them their own. They made almost all the rest of the world work for them and pocketed the profits.
With this head start, it was easy to maintain a scientific advantage in innovation, and a lasting social and technological superiority.
Oh, no. I am not being racist here. This is the simple and honest truth well known to any historian.
How can we measure the effect of Covid?
Now comes the interesting part. How can we measure the effect of Covid on countries? We know that the case numbers are a joke. Per every diagnosed case, India misses at least 20 to 30 cases. This is true for most of the world.
Deaths are more difficult to hide. But still many deaths are not getting attributed to covid. Many poorer countries are hiding numbers, as it has become a matter of prestige.
But we can count the excess number of total deaths and calculate the correction factor. The Economist has done it. (Modelling Covid’s death toll. The Economist, May15, 2021). It seems that the Europeans and the United States are undercounting by a factor of 20 to 50 percent. But India? By a factor of 400 to 500 percent! So, when we say one death, it could actually be Five deaths.
This is corroborated by an audit done by a few journalists on death data in Gujarat during the last few months and comparing it to data from the same months from last year. It was found that in Gujarat, one reported death from covid means TEN actual deaths from Covid! (The scale of Gujarat’s Mortality Crisis, The Hindu, May5, 2021). But Gujarat is an extreme example, and we will stick to five.
Now, let us do some math. Remember- we are doing per capita. So we look at deaths per million due to Covid (as of today- 27-05-2021):
United States- Reported deaths per million= 1792
Actual deaths per million= 1792+358 (20%)= 2150
India- Reported deaths per million= 224
Actual deaths per million= 224x 5= 1120.
It looks as though India has done far better than the United States! They have double the deaths than India, even after stringently applying the correction factor. Even in UK, the deaths per million is 1900.
How is this possible?
We don’t know the answer fully. But most statisticians think- Just demographics. I do too. Covid is much more dangerous for older humans. The Economist says, that Covid is 13 TIMES more deadly in Japan (Median age 48) than in Uganda (Median age 17). So, it is quite possible, I would say inevitable, that India has done much worse in managing the pandemic than richer countries. For evaluating that we should calculate the expected deaths in India as per it’s DEMOGRAPHICS. Come on, people. Someone- please do it.
The role of the Indian Government.
Of course, it has done badly. Predictably so, considering past performance and style of functioning. But that is for another day.
This article is just to ponder about the importance of looking behind the headlines, looking at history and perusing the numbers. And doing some math.