The COVID pandemic devastated the nation and put a stop to life across the world. India was one of the worst affected nations due to its population size. In smaller towns in the country, the situation worsened due to crumbling infrastructure. As the COVID case tally rose, the number of deaths also increased. A study by the medical journal Lancet has now found that the actual number of COVID deaths exceeded the actual figure by 40 lakhs.
The study on COVID deaths in India by Lancet
The study analysed 191 countries and found that the total number of COVID excess deaths in India was 152.5 per 100,000 people. The officially reported figure was 18.3 per 100, 000 people. These numbers were calculated between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021. According to this figure, India accounted for 22% of the total global deaths that occurred due to COVID.
‘Excess mortality’ essentially means the margin between the number of deaths actually expected in a time period and the additional deaths that cross this figure.
This finding was consistent with what experts had been claiming right from the beginning of the pandemic that the actual death figure exceeded that of what was reported. Study co-author Haidong Wang, a demographer and population-health expert at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, Washington, said to Nature “The loss of life is much higher than simply assessed by reported COVID-19 deaths in most countries. Understanding the true death toll from the pandemic is vital for effective public health decision-making.”
Following India, the countries that showed excess COVID deaths were the US, Russia, Mexico and Brazil, Indonesia, and Pakistan. “Although the excess mortality rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic among Indian states are not the highest in the world, because of India’s large population, the country accounted for 22.3% of global excess deaths as of Dec 31, 2021,” the study said.
Are the findings of the study of COVID deaths in India conclusive?
Some experts are not in agreement with the findings of the study as they do not find it practical. Ariel Karlinsky, an economist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel is one of these. He is of the opinion that while the study’s findings of 18 million deaths having occurred due to COVID by the end of 2021, certain estimates of COVID deaths in individual countries do not seem possible. “They still have their ludicrous estimate for Japan at over 100,000 excess deaths, which is over six times the reported deaths. I really don’t know how they are getting that,” he says to Nature.
Is India in agreement with the study?
The Health Ministry issued a statement on Friday through its official Twitter handle, saying that the study was ‘misinformed and speculative’.
The Ministry also said that the methodologies used by the authors were inconsistent and that this was agreed to by the authors of the study themselves. It went on to say that while the study analysed different countries' data by using different methodologies for the purpose, for India the sources used were newspapers and non-peer-reviewed studies.
“The reporting of deaths is regularly done in a transparent manner and is daily updated in the public domain on the website of Union Ministry of Health. Even the backlog in COVID-19 mortality data being submitted by the States at different times is reconciled in the data of the Government of India on a regular basis. Furthermore, there is a financial incentive in India to report COVID-19 deaths as they are entitled to monetary compensation. Hence, the likelihood of underreporting is less,’’ it said.
They went on to say that issues as sensitive as death should be dealt with by taking information based on facts as this was in light of a global pandemic and thus required a certain degree of sensitivity. “This type of speculative reporting has potential to create panic in the community, can misguide people and should be avoided,” it said.
The Ministry went on to say that in light of the high heterogeneity present in epidemiological profiles among countries, it would be prudent not to make strong assumptions until proper research was done before making these statements.