India, like the other developed and underdeveloped nations, has preferred to underreport or undercount COVID-19 deaths, claims a new study by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME).
IHME has analysed and published in their study titled, ‘Estimation of total mortality due to Covid-19’, that India may have underreported or undercounted 4.3 lakh deaths. The study also found that the US may have undercounted death numbers by 3.4 lakhs, Russia by nearly 5.93 lakh.
The study analysed data from 20 countries with the highest numbers of total COVID-19 deaths from March 2020 to May 2021.
“In the IHME estimation of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths to date, we have used officially reported COVID-19 deaths for nearly all locations. As of today, we are switching to a new approach that relies on the estimation of total mortality due to COVID-19. There are several reasons that have led us to adopt this new approach. These reasons include the fact that testing capacity varies markedly across countries and within countries over time, which means that the reported COVID-19 deaths as a proportion of all deaths due to COVID-19 also vary markedly across countries and within countries over time”, IHME researchers said in a note released on May 6.
The study also estimated the total number of deaths worldwide could be more than the reported numbers. “Our analysis estimates that by May 3, 2021, the total number of COVID-19 deaths was 6.93 million, a figure that is more than two times higher than the reported number of deaths of 3.24 million”, the study report mentioned.
In India also, courts and several media reports have raised the issue of alleged underreporting of COVID-19 deaths. Several media reports from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and other states have raised the issue of underreporting of deaths due to COVID-19 based on their inputs from morgues, crematoriums and hospitals.
In April, the Gujarat High Court came down heavily on the government stating, "The state had nothing to gain by hiding the real picture and hence suppression and concealment of accurate data would generate more serious problems including fear, loss of trust, panic among the public at large."
Other states such as Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Odisha, Karnataka, Bihar, Haryana and Chhattisgarh too have allegedly underreported COVID-19 deaths, according to several media reports.
The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has framed guidelines for the Cause of Death (COD) due to Covid-19 but it is not being followed by the States for many reasons. The primary reason as told by officials to the Scroll is ‘only deaths of persons who tested positive prior to death and died soon after of causes easily identified with COVID-19 were being counted as COVID deaths’.
The guidelines framed by ICMR states, a COVID-positive person’s death should be recorded as a COVID-19 death under U07.1, the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases code for a confirmed Covid-19 death, even if the person dies without symptoms of the disease.