(Bloomberg) – The actual death toll in India from covid-19 could range from 1.3 million to a staggering 5 million, with the most conservative estimate far exceeding that of the United States, so far, the highest recorded in the world.
The numbers, derived from research models and data from local authorities, are three to ten times the country’s official tally, adding to evidence that the true cost of India’s outbreak could have been vastly underestimated.
As corpses floated in the Ganges, a river sacred to millions of Hindus, and crematoria and cemeteries were overwhelmed, skepticism grew about the death toll of around 420,000 recorded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Bloomberg reached out to authorities in about half of India’s 28 states and territories seeking mortality data for April and May over the past two years and analyzed figures from researchers and experts. The result is clear: the true cost has been vastly underestimated due to the combination of an insufficient count, an inefficient civil registration system, and a lack of evidence that causes deaths from covid to be classified as other conditions, such as heart disease.
The findings fit estimates from researchers around the world. Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, spent much of last year modeling the Indian pandemic. Their studies suggest that the death toll as of June 15 is around 1.3 million.
For her part, Rukmini S, a prominent data journalist, has written that the figures she has compiled suggest a death toll closer to 2.5 million.
A report by the Washington-based Center for Global Development think tank published Tuesday studied data from three different sources, and found that excess deaths, a term public health experts use to describe mortality from all causes during a crisis that is above expectations under “normal” conditions, probably ranged between 3.4 and 4.9 million.
“Regardless of source and estimate, actual deaths during the covid pandemic are likely to have been more than the official count,” notes the report, co-authored by Arvind Subramanian, former chief economic adviser to the Indian government and two other researchers. . “The actual deaths are likely to be in the several million, not hundreds of thousands, so this is arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence.”
The federal Health Ministry, in a press release on July 14, called media reports on the increased number of COVID deaths “speculative.” Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told Parliament on Tuesday that “the Union Ministry of Health has issued detailed guidelines for reporting deaths to all states and territories in the Union.” The ministry did not respond to written questions from Bloomberg.
Despite widespread reports of oxygen shortages in India when the second wave of infections hit the country in April and May, the minister added that local governments “have not specifically reported deaths from lack of oxygen.”
State government officials noted that in most cases, people who did not take the test or who tested negative, but who showed symptoms of coronavirus, were not included in the official number. In rural areas, many people were not screened, were not treated, and ultimately were not counted, contrary to federal government guidelines. At least six states did not respond to data requests.
The figures paint a very different picture than the narrative presented by Modi, who has said that India handled the outbreak better than any other country, pointing to its low death rate as evidence. Modi’s popularity has fallen as the country’s healthcare infrastructure nearly collapses: His government’s approval ratings fell from 75% in 2019 to 51% this year, according to the LocalCircles survey released on May 29.
While the underreporting of COVID deaths is a worldwide phenomenon, the problem is exacerbated in India because deaths were already undercounted before the pandemic. Only 92% of all deaths are registered and only a fifth of them are duly certified by a doctor.
“Not registering a death is a disgrace to a life,” Mukherjee said. “Without relating deaths and hospitalizations to the vaccine and the variant data, we will never be able to understand the effectiveness of the vaccines or the clinical lethality of the variant.”
Original Note: Covid May Have Claimed as Many as 5 Million Lives in India
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