NEW DELHI (AP) – India’s excessive death toll during the pandemic could be 10 times the official toll from COVID-19, possibly making it modern India’s worst human tragedy, according to the most comprehensive research at this day on the devastation of the virus in the South Asian country.
Most experts believe India’s official death toll of over 414,000 dead is a vast understatement, but the government has dismissed these concerns as exaggerated and misleading.
The report released on Tuesday estimated the excessive deaths – the gap between those recorded and those that would have been expected – to be between 3 million and 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. It said a precise figure could “prove to be true. elusive “, but the real death toll” is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official tally “.
The report, released by Arvind Subramanian, former chief economic adviser to the Indian government, and two other researchers from the Center for Global Development and Harvard University, said the tally could have missed deaths in overwhelmed hospitals or as health care was delayed or disrupted, especially during the devastating peak wave at the start of the year.
“The real deaths are likely to be in the millions and not in the hundreds of thousands, making it arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence,” the report said.
The partition of the Indian subcontinent under British rule into independent India and Pakistan in 1947 resulted in the deaths of up to 1 million people as gangs of Hindus and Muslims killed each other.
The virus count in India report used three calculation methods: data from the vital statistics system which records births and deaths in seven states, blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India as well as the rates of global deaths from COVID-19, and an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people do so three times a year.
The researchers warned that each method had weaknesses, such as the economic survey omitting causes of death.
Instead, the researchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality from previous years – a method widely considered to be an accurate measure.
The researchers also warned that the virus’s prevalence and deaths from COVID-19 in the seven states they studied may not translate across India, as the virus could have spread worse in urban states. rural and since the quality of health care varies considerably in India.
And while other countries have reportedly underestimated deaths in the pandemic, India is said to have a larger gap due to its world’s second-largest population of 1.4 billion and its situation is complicated because not all deaths have been recorded even before the pandemic.
Dr Jacob John, who studies viruses at Christian Medical College in Vellore in southern India, reviewed the report for the Associated Press and said it highlights the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the system of the country’s under-prepared health care system.
“This analysis reiterates the observations of other intrepid investigative journalists who have highlighted the massive undercoverage of deaths,” said Jacob.
The report also estimated that nearly 2 million Indians died in the first wave of infections last year and said failure to “grasp the scale of the tragedy in real time” could have “engender a collective complacency which led to the horrors” of the wave earlier this year. .
In recent months, some Indian states have increased their death toll from COVID-19 after finding thousands of previously unreported cases, raising concerns that many more deaths have not been officially recorded.
Several Indian journalists have also published higher figures from some states using government data. Scientists say this new information is helping them better understand how COVID-19 spread in India.
Murad Banaji, who studies mathematics at Middlesex University and has looked at COVID-19 mortality figures in India, said recent data has confirmed some of the underestimation suspicions. Banaji said the new data also shows that the virus was not confined to urban centers, as contemporary reports indicated, but villages in India were also hit hard.
“One question we should ask ourselves is whether some of these deaths were preventable,” he said.
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