India’s official Covid-19 death toll is around 414,000, the third-highest in the world, but the study suggests a huge undercount.(AP)
India’s official Covid-19 death toll is around 414,000, the third-highest in the world, but the study suggests a huge undercount.(AP)

India's excess deaths during Covid-19 pandemic up to 4.9 million: Study

  • The report, co-authored by India's former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, used three different data sources from the start of the pandemic through June 2021 to estimate excess deaths during the pandemic.
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 20, 2021 06:37 PM IST

India’s excess deaths during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic could be as high as 4.9 million, according to a new study, suggesting that millions more may have lost their lives to the deadly virus than the official death toll. The report by Central for Global Development, a Washington-based think tank, used three different data sources from the start of the pandemic through June 2021 to estimate excess mortality during the period. However, the study doesn’t ascribe all excess deaths to Covid-19.

The first estimate was from extrapolation of the state-level civil registration data from seven states - Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. It suggested that the excess deaths could be around 3.4 million. The study, however, acknowledged the issues with the extrapolation of data from seven states to an all-India estimate, saying it was possible that the Covid mortality in the “rest of India is different from the seven states.”

The second estimate was based on combining Covid-19 seroprevalence data and international estimates of the age-specific mortality rate. It implied the excess death toll was around 4 million - 1.5 million and 2.4 million during the two Covid waves respectively. The authors noted that even though the data from the second wave of infections encompassed three months compared to 11 months for the first one, the death toll was significantly greater given the higher rate of infections.

Read | India did not see 5-7 times excess Covid-19 deaths. Govt explains why

The third data source showed the worst-case scenario with up to 4.9 million excess deaths. The estimate was based on the survey data of the Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS) conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). The survey constitutes information gathered from interviewing roughly 177,000 households every four months. The CPHS has been recording the data since 2014 and according to the study, it is the “only survey data collecting death information for all of India for the entire pandemic period.”

“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence,” the report, co-authored by India's former chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian, said.

India’s official Covid-19 death toll is around 414,000, the third-highest in the world, but the study suggests a huge undercount. A report by The New York Times had earlier claimed that the most conservative estimate puts India’s Covid-19 deaths at 600,000 and several times higher in the worst-case scenario. But those estimates were dismissed by the government.

“For every country, it's important to capture excess mortality - only way to prepare the health system for future shocks & to prevent further deaths. It's also why we need to invest in strong civil registration & vital statistics, so policies can be adjusted based on real data,” Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said on Twitter.

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