Medically certified deaths due to Covid-19 exceed official death toll in 2020
NEW DELHI: Latest data released by the Office of the Registrar General of India (ORGI) offers fresh evidence that India’s official Covid-19 mortality numbers could be underestimates.
Deaths due to Covid-19 were the third leading cause of death among medically certified deaths in 2020, accounting for 160,618 (8.9%) of the total 1,811,688 deaths, according to data on medical certification of deaths released by ORGI under the ministry of home affairs on May 25. The statistics on Medical Certification of Cause of Deaths (MCCD) are collated from the Civil Registration System (CRS).
This number is higher than what is reported as India’s official death toll from Covid-19 in 2020. As collated from Covid-19 bulletins issued by states by HT it is 149,036. This means that 11,582 or 7.2% of medically certified deaths from Covid-19 were not recorded as such in Covid-19 bulletins across states. This is despite the fact that medically certified deaths are less than a quarter of all registered deaths and not all deaths are registered. In 2020, there were 8,062,070 registered deaths but only 1,811,688 deaths were medically certified. The level of registration was not reported in the 2020 CRS report.
To be sure, medically certified deaths as a share of registered deaths among states that reported both MCCD data and CRS data in 2020 were the highest since 1991, the earliest year for which the recent MCCD reports give data.
22.5% of 8,062,070 registered deaths were medically certified in 2020, 0.5 percentage points more than the previous high recorded in 2017 (22%). The total number of registered deaths in the CRS were 8,115,882 in 2020, but the MCCD report tabulates level of medical certification only in relation to CRS deaths from states that also report MCCD data. Only the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2018 and the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in 2019 and 2020 have not reported MCCD data in recent years.
A bulletin of the Sample Registration System (SRS), also released by ORGI on May 25, shows that the pandemic also seems to have halted the declining trend of death rates in India in 2020.
India’s death rate was 6.7%, 6.5%, 6.4%, 6.3%, 6.2%, and 6% from 2014 to 2019. Instead of declining further in 2020, the death rate remained constant at 6%.
To be sure, this was not the trend in both rural and urban India. Death rate decreased from 6.5% in 2019 to 6.4% in 2020 in rural areas but increased from 5% to 5.1% in urban areas. Unlike the CRS, which is based on official records of registration of births and deaths, SRS data is based on a sample survey.