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India’s Covid death toll 6-7 times higher than officially reported, says IIM-Ahmedabad study

Study by IIM-Ahmedabad & University of Toronto used independent survey of 1.4 lakh individuals, as well as government data, for the study, published in 'Science' Thursday.

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New Delhi: India’s cumulative Covid-19 deaths by September 2021 — when the second wave abated — were as much as six to seven times higher than what was reported officially, according to a new study by researchers from the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and the University of Toronto.

The team used an independent survey of 1.4 lakh individuals, as well as government data, for the study. They also compared Covid mortality during the 2020 and 2021 waves to the expected mortality from all causes.

The study, published in the journal Science Thursday, concluded that India’s Covid death toll may have been as high as 31 lakh to 34 lakh — of which 26 lakh to 29 lakh deaths occurred between April and July 2021. 

To fill the gaps in national-level estimates, the team said it quantified Covid mortality in India using one independent and two government data sources. 

The first study is mortality reported in a telephone survey conducted by CVoter, an independent polling agency, which launched the survey on a non-profit basis to help track the pandemic. The survey covered 1.4 lakh adults. 

“In addition, we studied the Government of India’s administrative data on national facility-based deaths and civil registration system (CRS) deaths in ten states,” the team said. 

Among the adults that the CVoter survey contacted were approximately 57,000 people staying in “immediate households” — which also included parents and unmarried adults staying under a roof — as of 1 January 2019.

The surveyors asked them questions about who died in their household and when, and if the respondents thought the deaths were due to Covid infections, or non-Covid causes. The answers were then collated.

According to the survey, the death rate in this sub-study (that is, “immediate households”) more than doubled in 2021, as compared to 2019. 

Also read: Are states quietly adding ‘backlog’ to Covid death toll? Modi govt wants audit & analysis

‘Underreporting’ Covid deaths in India

India’s official, cumulative Covid death count of about 4.8 lakh implies a Covid death rate of approximately 345 per million (or 10,00,000) people — about one-seventh of the reported US death rate.

Several reports of alleged underreporting of Covid deaths in India have appeared in the media. During the second wave, it was reported from some cities that the number of cremations involving Covid patients outnumbered the reported figures in the government bulletin. 

Meanwhile, some states and UTs — including Kerala, Chandigarh and Bihar — are already in the process of adding missed death figures or backlog of deaths to their Covid toll, with over 17,000 deaths added to the death toll between 22 October 2021 and 5 January 2022. 

(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)

Also read: Huge, quick “tsunami’ of new COVID-19 cases overwhelming health systems around the world: WHO chief


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