Centre refutes reports alleging under-reporting of Covid deaths
Media reports claiming a ‘significant undercount’ of the Covid-19 deaths in India are fallacious and ill-informed, said the Union health ministry in a statement on Friday.
“They are not based on facts and are mischievous in nature. India has a very robust system of birth & death reporting which is based on a Statute and is carried out regularly from the Gram Panchayat level to the District level and State level. The whole exercise is carried out under the overall oversight of the Registrar General of India (RGI)," said the ministry.
"Moreover, the Government of India has a very comprehensive definition to classify Covid deaths, based on globally acceptable categorisation. All deaths are being independently reported by states, and are being compiled centrally. The backlog in Covid-19 mortality data being submitted by the states at different times are being reconciled in the data of Govt of India on a regular basis," it added.
A large number of states have regularly reconciled their death numbers and have reported arrear deaths in a broadly transparent manner. Therefore, to project that deaths have been under-reported is without basis and without justification, it added.
The ministry clarified that there is an "extreme difference" in Covid case load and linked mortality between Indian states.
"Any assumptions putting all states in one envelope would mean mapping skewed data of outliers together with states reporting lowest mortality which is bound to stretch the median towards higher and wrong results," the ministry said.
Furthermore, there is an incentive in India to report Covid deaths as they are entitled to monetary compensation. Hence, the likelihood of under-reporting is less, it said.
"During a disruptive situation like the pandemic, the actual mortality could be more than the reported deaths due to many factors, even in the most robust health systems. However, any analysis with the view to deduce information collected from extremely varied caseload and outcome situations among Indian states is bound to be incomplete and incorrect," the statement said.
These current media reports on "significant undercount" of the actual number of people who have died in India are based on a study which seems biased in nature as only adults with Covid-19 symptoms were captured and cannot be thus representative of the general population, the statement said.
"There also appears to be selection bias as the survey is restricted to phone owning people who can also take out time to answer questions comprehensively. The sample could be skewed towards urban areas in that sense, where more cases were reported, and thus, have a higher reporting. They are also people likely to be more aware and have greater reporting bias," it said.
Study in question
This comes days after an independent study published in the journal Science claimed that about 3.2 million people could have died from Covid in India by September last year, six-seven times higher than reported officially.
The research used an independent nationally representative survey of 137,289 adults in all states and union territories interviewed from March 2020 to July 2021.
An international team of researchers led by Prabhat Jha, a professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, found that Covid-19 constituted 29% of deaths from June 2020 to July 2021, corresponding to 3.2 million (32 lakh) deaths, of which 2.7 million (27 lakh) occurred in April-July 2021.
A sub-survey of 57,000 adults showed similar increases in mortality with Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 deaths peaking similarly, they said.
Two government data sources found that, when compared to pre-pandemic periods, all-cause mortality – or death from any cause – was 27% higher in 0.2 million health facilities and 26% higher in civil registration deaths in 10 states, the researchers said.