India’s records 400 000 Covid deaths

Experts say the actual numbers are being under-estimated due to the lack of a robust civil registry system

Shweta Sharma
Friday 02 July 2021 15:03
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India: Bodies of Covid patients left in empty ICU after hospital runs out of oxygen

India crossed the grim milestone of 400,000 Covid deaths in the country with the deadly second wave of the pandemic accounting for half of the deaths.

The South Asian nation is now only the third in the world to have crossed 400,000 Covid deaths, only behind the US and Brazil.

But experts believe India has under-estimated the actual number of deaths due to lags in testing and reporting of deaths when the fragile data registry system was overwhelmed.

Dr Oommen John, a public health researcher at The George Institute, said, although there are multiple factors behind the undercounting of deaths, it is primarily due to the lack of a robust civil registry system.

“The civil registry system is a single point of truth and in the absence of it the representation is not accurate. India needs to have a robust data collecting system and electronic health record system in place to extrapolate the missing or excess mortality,” he told The Independent.

On Friday, the Indian government sent teams to six states seeing a rise in Covid-19 infections. The two-member teams, including a clinician and a public health expert, will assess the situation in the states and monitor the vaccination drive. These include Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Manipur.

The health system was brought to its knees during the second wave, when chilling images from the country showed queues of dead bodies lying outside crematoriums, bodies piling up in mortuary and long lines of people waiting outside hospitals. During that period, India breached its own records for numbers of infections and recorded a single day surge of more than 400,000 cases in May.

Hospitals were forced to turn down patients due to lack of beds while several of them ran out of oxygen amid crippling shortages.

People continue to crowd in Indian states even as experts warn of impending third wave

Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, said India would never truly know how many people died during the second wave.

"Undercounting of deaths is something that has happened across states, mostly because of lags in the system, so that means we will never have a true idea of how many people we lost in this second wave,” he told Reuters.

In the aftermath of the devastating second wave, dead bodies covered in shrouds were seen drifting in river in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and hundreds of them were buried on the banks. The discovery sent shockwaves across India as political parties shifted blame.

The experts say there is a high chance these deaths could have gone unacknowledged in official data.

Several Indian states like Maharashtra and Bihar also revised their death toll to include deaths that had previously not been accounted for in the previous days. In June, even as the infection rate was going down, India saw the highest jump in deaths with 6000 single day Covid fatalities after Bihar revised its tally.

And although the infection rate has now fallen - below 40 000 cases per day - experts have warned of an impending third wave and the focus has shifted to immunization.

Less than 6 percent of people in the country have been fully vaccinated since the drive began in January amid vaccine hesitancy in rural areas. India gave an average of 3.5 million doses a day this week, as compared to 6.6 million doses last week.

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