BENGALURU / NEW DELHI – An Indian state has raised its COVID-19 mortality rate higher after the discovery of thousands of unreported cases, suggesting that India’s overall mortality rate is significantly more than the official figure.
Indian hospitals ran out of beds and life-saving oxygen during a devastating second coronavirus in April and May and people were killed in parking lots outside hospitals and at their homes.
Many of these deaths have not been recorded in COVID-19 counts, according to doctors and health experts.
According to the Ministry of Health, India has 29.2 million cases and 359,676 deaths.
But the discovery of thousands of unreported deaths in the state of Bihar has raised the suspicion that many more victims of the coronavirus have not been included in the official figures.
The health department in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India, has revised the total COVID-19 mortality rate to more than 9,429 from about 5,424 on Wednesday.
The newly reported deaths occurred last month and government officials are investigating the decay, a district health official said he blamed the oversight of private hospitals.
“These deaths took place 15 days ago and have only just been uploaded to the government portal. “Action will be taken against some private hospitals,” the official said. He did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Health experts believe that both coronavirus infections and deaths across the country are significantly underestimated, in part because testing facilities are scarce in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live, and hospitals are few.
Many people became ill and died at home without being tested for the coronavirus.
As crematoria have struggled over the past two months to deal with the wave of deaths, many families have placed bodies in the sacred Ganges River or buried it in shallow graves on its sandbanks.
These people probably would not have been registered as COVID victims.
“Underreporting is a widespread problem, not necessarily deliberate, often due to inadequacies,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Center for Social Medicine and Community Health at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told Reuters.
“In the rural context, regardless of the states that say or claim, the test is not simple, easy or accessible,” Dasgupta said.
In general, India’s cases and deaths have been steadily declining in recent weeks following a boom from mid-March.
The official total of cases on Thursday was at 29.2 million after rising by 94,052 in the previous 24 hours, while total deaths rose to 359,676, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
The New York Times estimated deaths based on the number of deaths over time and fatal infection rates and the Indian toll ranged from 600,000 to 1.6 million.
The government dismissed the estimates as exaggerated. But Congress’s largest opposition party has said other states should follow Bihar’s example and review deaths over the past two months.
“It has undoubtedly been proven that the government has concealed COVID deaths,” said Shama Mohamed, a congressional spokesperson, adding that an audit should also be ordered in the major states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
By Manas Mishra and Neha Arora