India Has Undercounted Covid-19 Deaths by Hundreds of Thousands, Families and Experts Say




India has officially recorded more than 390,000 coronavirus deaths, but families who have lost loved ones, health experts and statisticians say that vastly undercounts the true toll. Families like Mrs. Singh’s have been left struggling to get compensation that some states have set up for Covid-19 victims.

India’s undercount has also left a huge gap in the world’s understanding of the impact of the Delta variant, which health experts believe helped drive one of the world’s worst Covid-19 surges in April and May. India was the first to detect the highly infectious variant, which has hopscotched around the world. It is fueling a surge in the U.K., and is expected to become the dominant variant in the U.S.

The undercounting of infections and deaths is a problem world-wide, even in countries with widespread testing. The World Health Organization said last month that the global Covid-19 death toll could be two or three times the official number. The problem, however, is particularly acute in the developing world, where access to healthcare and coronavirus testing is often more limited.

To qualify for its Covid-19 compensation payment of 400,000 rupees, equivalent to about $5,400, the state requires a report from a certified lab, which at the time were taking days to process.The family got a test strip from the lab indicating that Mrs. Singh was positive and rushed to a doctor.
Health experts say many Covid-19 deaths have gone uncounted among India’s vast population of rural poor, who have little access to healthcare or Covid-19 testing.

Mr. Banaji, the mathematician, says the central government has tended to praise states with low death counts and castigate those with higher counts as incompetent. “This narrative of success and failure centered on fatality numbers is very dangerous,” he said.

Author(s): Shan Li, Suryatapa Bhattacharya, Vibhuti Agarwal

Publication Date: 17 June 2021

Publication Site: WSJ