NEW DELHI – India’s excess deaths during the pandemic could be 10 times the official COVID-19 figure, likely making it the worst human tragedy in modern India, according to the most comprehensive research to date on the virus’s ravages in the South Asian country.
Most experts believe that the official death toll of more than 414,000 in India is a grossly undercount, but the government has dismissed those concerns as exaggerated and misleading.
The report published on Tuesday estimated the excess of deaths, the gap between those registered and those that would have been expected, between 3 and 4.7 million between January 2020 and June 2021. It said that a precise figure may “be difficult to reach. “But the true death toll” is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count. “
The report, published by Arvind Subramanian, a former chief economic adviser to the Indian government, and two other researchers from the Center for Global Development and Harvard University, said the count could have missed deaths that occurred in overwhelmed hospitals or while medical care was delayed or interrupted. especially during the devastating peak earlier this year.
“The actual deaths are likely to be in the several million, not hundreds of thousands, so this is arguably India’s worst human 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 deaths of up to a million people when gangs of Hindus and Muslims slaughtered each other.
The report on the number of viruses in India used three calculation methods: data from the civil registration system that records births and deaths in seven states, blood tests showing the prevalence of the virus in India along with global death rates from COVID-19 and an economic survey of almost 900,000 people do it three times a year.
The researchers cautioned that each method has weaknesses, such as the economic survey that omits causes of death.
Instead, the researchers looked at deaths from all causes and compared that data to mortality in previous years, a method that is widely considered an accurate metric.
The researchers also warned that the prevalence of the virus and deaths from COVID-19 in the seven states they studied may not carry over to all of India as the virus could have spread worse in urban states than in rural ones and given that the Quality of medical care varies greatly in India.
And while other nations are believed to have underestimated deaths in the pandemic, India is believed to have a larger gap due to having the world’s second-highest population of 1.4 billion and its situation is complicated because not all deaths were recorded. even before the pandemic.
Dr. Jacob John, who studies viruses at Christian Medical College in Vellore, South India, reviewed the report for The Associated Press and said it underscores the devastating impact COVID-19 had on the ill-prepared healthcare system. from the country.
“This analysis reiterates the observations of other intrepid investigative journalists who have highlighted the massive underestimation of deaths,” said Jacob.
The report also estimated that nearly 2 million Indians died during the first surge in infections last year and said that not “understanding the magnitude of the tragedy in real time” may have “engendered the collective complacency that led to the horrors” of the increase earlier this year. .
In recent months, some states in India have increased their death toll from COVID-19 after encountering thousands of previously unreported cases, raising concern as many more deaths were not officially recorded.
Several Indian journalists have also published higher figures for 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 been looking at India’s COVID-19 mortality figures, said recent data has confirmed some of the suspicions about the undercount. Banaji said the new data also shows that the virus was not restricted to urban centers, as contemporary reports had indicated, but that villages in India were also severely affected.
“One question we should ask ourselves is whether some of those deaths were preventable,” he said.