2.7-3.3 million Covid-19 deaths in India: Study

Updated on Jul 27, 2021 04:36 AM IST

The study is based on excess mortality recorded across eight states and seven cities between June 2020 and 2021, and extrapolates this to arrive at the final estimate.

Excess mortality is the gap between the number of deaths due to any cause seen in 2020 and 2021 as compared to the years before.(File Photo / REUTERS)
Excess mortality is the gap between the number of deaths due to any cause seen in 2020 and 2021 as compared to the years before.(File Photo / REUTERS)
By, New Delhi

There have been at least 2.7 to 3.3 million deaths due to the two waves of coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in India, estimates a study authored by Dr Prabhat Jha from Centre for Global Health Research at the University of Toronto and Dr Paul Novosad from the department of economics at Dartmouth College. India’s official toll due to Covid-19 currently stands at just over 421,000.

The study is based on excess mortality recorded across eight states and seven cities between June 2020 and 2021, and extrapolates this to arrive at the final estimate.

The median excess mortality recorded during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 was 22%; ranging from 63% in Andhra Pradesh to 6% in Kerala. This increased to 46% during the second wave of the pandemic between April and June this year and was as high as 198% in Madhya Pradesh.

Excess mortality is the gap between the number of deaths due to any cause seen in 2020 and 2021 as compared to the years before. Researchers believe that most of these additional deaths are likely to have been due to Covid-19.

The study did adjust for excess mortality below the age of 35 years, “which are unlikely to be from Covid.”

The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study, which was recently uploaded on MedRxiv, has based the excess mortality figures on the civil registration system which records all births and deaths, data from several healthcare institutions collected through the health management information system, and a telephonic survey.

The excess mortality estimated by the current study is certainly less than the 4.9 million excess deaths estimated by a study by the Center for Global Development . The report based the excess mortality estimates on international infection fatality rate – proportion of deaths among the total number of people infected – and the factor of undercounting infections according to the seroprevalence data. This was in addition to data from civil registration system and another longitudinal survey.

Last week, responding to the CGD study without naming it, India issued a statement saying such numbers are “totally fallacious”. “Given the robust and statute-based death registration system in India, missing out on deaths is unlikely,” it added.

In the latest study, the researchers estimated 0.63 million excess deaths for five states -- Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Haryana -- for which the researchers had data available for ten or more months, including for period when the number of cases were low. “This implies, crudely, about 3.2 million deaths nationally in both viral waves, assuming other states have also have five times more excess deaths,” the study said.

The researchers also noted that much of this excess mortality in the states in question, 0.45 million , occurred during April and May when the second wave of the pandemic was at its height.

“Three different databases: A survey, CRS, HMIS, all pointing towards at least 27% excess mortality over a year. Note that these results are after using UN/SRS baselines in the main. All 3 databases suggest that bulk of excess mortality was in the second wave. Our conclusion: India’s COVID death rate may be about 7-8 times higher than the officially reported 290/million population,” said Chinmay Tumbe, one of the authors of the paper and assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anonna Dutt is a health reporter at Hindustan Times. She reports on Delhi government’s health policies, hospitals in Delhi, and health-related feature stories.

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