Backlog deaths raise questions over actual Covid-19 fatalities in Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand has reported over 3,000 Covid-19 deaths over the last 25 days with officials saying they include many fatalities that were not reported earlier and have raised questions on the exact toll from the second wave of the pandemic.
According to official data, 342 of 893 deaths reported between May 17-May 24 were added to the tally as hospitals had not reported them earlier.
A Haridwar hospital alone had not reported at least 65 deaths to the state Covid-19 Control Room and prompted the state health department to issue notice to it. The department has directed all the hospitals to report all Covid-related deaths within 24 hours as per the protocol.
Officials said hospitals have since then been reporting the backlog of deaths. The fatalities are now being added to the official data on daily basis.
On May 22, Rishikesh’s All India Institute of Medical Science reported 20 backlog deaths. A day earlier, Roorkee’s Military Hospital reported 24 such fatalities. The Rudrapur District Hospital delayed reporting 267 Covid-19 deaths from April 14- May 13.
Avinash Khanna, an additional chief medical officer, said the dedicated Covid Care centre at the district hospital provided the information only when the authorities there were told that a case will be lodged against them if they did not.
Data related to positive, negative test reports as well as deaths of patients are sent daily to the state Covid Control Room in Dehradun.
Khanna said the daily positive and negative report updates too were hit when one of the data entry operators tested positive for Covid. He added now the work is on to report the backlog of deaths.
A health official, who did not wish to be named, said had the Control Room shown the strictness, question marks over the data would not have been raised.
Activist Anoop Nautiyal, who has been tracking the pandemic situation in the state, blamed callousness on part of the administration for the underreporting. He added the administration was not taking action against hospitals that are not reporting the deaths within 24 hours. “This is very unprofessional. In the fight against this severe pandemic, we cannot win against the virus if the data is not accurate and transparent. It is always sacrosanct as the policies are based on it. If this is not stopped, we will never come to know about the real picture.”
Indian Medical Association national vice president DD Choudhury said if the hospitals are not reporting the exact deaths to the state health department, then that means the government is inefficient. “It is not that the government does not know what is going on in the hospitals especially the private ones right now. But it is not taking any stern action because some of the owners of those private hospitals have connections with high-ranking officials. And in some cases, senior government officials do not know the reality because their subordinates are hiding things from them,” said Choudhury.
State health secretary Amit Negi said they have warned hospitals of strict action if they do not report the deaths to the state Covid-19 Control Room.
A large number of hospitals that delayed reporting fatalities with the stipulated 24 hours are located in Haridwar, which has prompted the district administration to form three teams to monitor their management and deaths on daily basis. Haridwar district magistrate C Ravi Shankar said they too have issued a warning to hospitals. He added the three teams will also ensure the availability of medical oxygen and carry out physical verification of the Intensive Care Unit and Covid wards.
Chief medical officer Shambu Nath Jha said in many cases hospital staffers contracted Covid-19 and this caused the delay in reporting the deaths. “We have directed every hospital to upload the data on the government portal within the time frame.”
At least 9.1 million pilgrims visited Haridwar for the Mahakumbh this year, the event’s organisers said on April 29. The mega event was widely criticised for rampant violation of Covid-19 protocols and massive overcrowding during an alarming surge in cases. It coincided with an increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths in Uttarakhand.