By Sheikh Salik and Krutika Pathi | The Associated Press
NEW DELHI – India’s excess deaths during the coronavirus pandemic could be 10 times the official COVID-19 toll, making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research ever on the virus’s havoc in the South Asian country. can make. .
Most experts believe the official death toll in India is over 414,000, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.
The report, released on Tuesday, estimated that more deaths have been recorded and the gap between those that could have been expected – from 3.4 million to 4.7 million since the pandemic began last month. It said an exact figure could “prove elusive”, but the actual death number “is likely to be an order of magnitude higher than the official count.”
The report was published by Arvind Subramaniam, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India and two other researchers from the Center for Global Development and Harvard University, a Washington-based non-profit think tank.
It said the count may have missed deaths in hospitals overwhelming or when health care was disrupted, especially during the devastating virus earlier this year.
“The true deaths are likely to be in the hundreds, if not millions, of India’s worst humanitarian tragedy since Partition and Independence,” the report said.
The partition of the British-ruled Indian subcontinent into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 resulted in the death of one million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims killed each other.
The report on India’s virus toll used three calculation methods: data from the civil registration system that records births and deaths in seven states, along with global COVID-19 mortality rates showing the spread of the virus in India. Blood tests, and an economic survey of about 900,000 people were done three times a year.
The researchers cautioned that each method had weaknesses, such as omitting causes of death in the Economic Survey.
Instead, the researchers looked at all-cause deaths and compared that data to mortality rates in previous years — a method widely considered an accurate metric.
The researchers also cautioned that the prevalence of the virus and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the seven states they studied may not translate to the whole of India, as the virus may be more spread in urban versus rural states. And since the quality of health care varies a lot in India.
Deaths in the epidemic are believed to have been reduced in other countries as well. But India is believed to have a greater gap with the world’s second largest population at 1.4 billion and because not all deaths were recorded even before the pandemic.
The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request from the Associated Press for comment on the report.
Dr. Jacob John, who studies the virus at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, south India and was not part of the research, reviewed the report for the AP and said it could affect the country’s less prepared healthcare system for COVID-19. Outlines the devastating effect.
“This analysis reiterates comments from other fearless investigative journalists who have uncovered the sheer number of deaths,” Jacob said.
The report also estimated that nearly 2 million Indians died during the first surge in infections last year and said that “not understanding the scale of the tragedy in real time” earlier this year would cause “collective complacency.” horrors”. .
In the past few months, some Indian states have increased their COVID-19 death tolls after detecting thousands of previously unreported cases, raising concerns that many more deaths have not been officially recorded. Went.
Many Indian journalists have also published more issues than some states, using official figures. Scientists say this new information is helping them understand how COVID-19 spread in India.
Murad Banaji, who studies mathematics at Middlesex University and has been looking at India’s COVID-19 mortality figures, said the recent figures have confirmed some doubts about the undercounting. Banaji said the new data also showed that the virus was not confined to urban centres, as contemporary reports indicated, and villages in India were also badly affected.
“One question we must ask is whether some of those deaths could have been avoided,” he said.