A secretive government combined with a creaking healthcare system has resulted in India likely being the worst affected country in the world from the fallout of Covid-19.
India’s Covid-19 death rate may be ten times higher than official statistics, says a new report.
So far, India has officially recorded more than 423,000 deaths resulting from Covid-19, and the country has the second-highest number of infected people, with 31 million having contracted the virus, according to official figures. The United States has seen more than 36 million infections and almost 630,000 deaths.
India is one of the few major economies that hasn’t published estimates of excess deaths, a measure of how many more people are dying this year compared to previous years.
Now researchers from the US-based Center for Global Development looking at three different data sources are seeking to estimate how many people may have died due to Covid-19.
The numbers are grim. A low estimate by researchers suggests that India saw more than 3.4 million excess deaths as a result of Covid-19 from the beginning of the virus until June 2021.
A second data source used by the researchers implies a higher death toll of around 4 million, and a third data source suggests 4.9 million excess deaths.
Attempts by researchers to try and figure out how many people have died has been condemned by the Indian government as either exaggerated or misleading.
Authors of the report accept that “each of these estimates has shortcomings” and that estimating deaths resulting from Covid-19 may ultimately “prove elusive.”
However, what can be said with increasing certainty is that the number of people that have died from Covid-19 in India is likely to be significantly higher than official figures.
Recently one of India’s most populous and poorest states updated the number of Covid-19 deaths after finding thousands of unreported burials linked to the pandemic.
The discovery of unrecorded deaths was a confirmation for critics that the true number of deaths is yet to be revealed in the country of 1.3 billion people.
While the second Covid-19 wave in India captured international attention, the first wave was significantly more deadly, researchers found.
The first wave “was spread out in time and space,” said the authors, “unlike the sudden and concentrated surge of the second wave."
“Only a sense that too many died in the second wave has really galvanized the effort to find out the true number of deaths,” added the authors of the report.
If the numbers prove to be close to what is being reported, it would be one of the most significant losses in human life in India since its independence from Britain in 1947.
Journalists, academics, and scientists have been working for months to piece together India's true scale of deaths.
The scale of infections in India resulted in the country’s crematoriums being overwhelmed.
A confluence of events including massive political rallies by the ruling government of Narendra Modi, religious events, a lack of Covid-19 preparedness and the early re-opening of the country caught the county off guard even as a more malignant variant of the virus was circulating in the general population.
Anecdotal evidence from medical associations in India have reported hesitance amongst the community to come forward and get tested or treated for Covid-19. At the same time, others have avoided hospitals for fear of plunging into debt due to soaring medical costs.
A forum of scientific advisers set up by the government warned Indian officials in early March of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold in the country, however, according to reports, they were ignored.
According to the Indian government, more than 70 percent of India’s population have Covid-19 antibodies indicating that official infection numbers are likely to be inaccurate.
Hundreds of Indian researchers and scientists signed an open letter appealing to the government to release more data saying: “While new pandemics can have unpredictable features, our inability to adequately manage the spread of infections has, to a large extent, resulted from epidemiological data not being systematically collected and released in a timely manner to the scientific community.”
To date, only 7.3 percent of India’s population has been vaccinated, and while the government’s response has picked up for many, it’s been too little too late.