Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India is one of the countries in the world leading the table in the matter of recovery rates from Covid. He said this while speaking at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) debate on post-Covid world.
When the prime minister draws the picture of India's achievement in taming the pandemic, India stands third in the world in Covid case-load. Even as we pray for his statement to be true, one cannot ignore the reproach that the country's figures are not accurate enough and that, like in many other countries, it is tainted by elements of misreporting. The criticism that the stimulus package of Rs 30,000 Cr declared by the government was an inflated claim, can perhaps be pushed to the realm of politics. But the official figures of the country about Covid does not fall under that category. Experts, who emphasise that accurate figures are key to reining in such a severe and fast-spreading pandemic, point out that our record on that score is not that creditable.
Although the domestic political conditions in many countries may force a complacence, one of the strongest tools for arresting the pandemic is reliable statistics. A study done last month has shown that China's figures are not reliable because they under-report the number of deaths. In many states of India, official death figures show lower numbers than actual. A report from Bhopal is as tell-tale as it is a cause of concern. A patient with severe symptoms of Covid approaches a hospital for treatment. Hospitals turn him away on one excuse or another. Finally by the time he was admitted to Hamidiya hospital, his condition had got worse and he died. The dead body was not allowed to be taken home. Health workers followed Covid protocol, took away his body and cremated it. But only some time later did it transpire that his death was not recorded among Covid deaths, but was listed among suspected cases of Covid. And that list would not come under Covid deaths - which is against the directions of World Health Organisation (WHO) Indian Council of Medical Search (ICMR). The recommendation tis hat all patients that doctors treat as Covid-19 cases, should be classified under that very head, because even in really Covid-infected patients, tests sometimes turn out negative.
If 'doubtful cases' is one way of under-reporting deaths, another is not reporting deaths at all. Researchers say that In big cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and Vadodara, lower death rates are provided than actual due to political compulsions. And this is supported by evidence. One is the inconsistency in Covid death cases. Death rates are evaluated on the basis of number of deaths in a million people. When in the US this is 420 and in Brazil 349, in India it is a mere 19. The expert observation is that this is not credible. The Covid death numbers released by state governemnts and the number from funeral centres have also not been found to match each other. Because of such discrepancies, a system of mortality audit was introduced. Following this, the death rate in Delhi rose sharply. In Chennai, it was found that over 200 deaths were not recorded. It has been found that the errors in figures have adversely affected prevention planning and slackened people's vigilance; the same is the result of lower rates of testing. And there are also allegations about deliberately reducing testing to prevent wider detection and to thus send a message of lower rates of incidence.
According a news report released recently, in the last week of May – when the rate of infection in Delhi was 13.7 – 7000 tests were conducted every day. By the second week of June, the case load increased by 30 per cent, testing rate was reduced to 5000. Viewing the country overall, sufficient number of tests are not conducted.
This again renders the infection statistics deficient. Another factor that distorts figures is that when patients die of other ailments, they go unreported under Covid category. Experts cite this as quite unscientific. Since those who suffer from hypertesion, diabetes, cancer and heart disease will have lower disease resistance, Covid may be more deadly for them. But in official figures, they get entered as due to other diseases. Even if the primary cause of death is Covid, that goes unreported under Covid. New studies show that Covid can affect not only the lungs but heart, blood vessels and kidneys. Prabhat Jha who is conducted a research titled 'Million Death Study' says that even if one dies of other diseases and if he had Covid, that death has to be treated under Covid deaths.
Statistics play a crucial role in detecting Covid cases and making prevention. Even amidst the hope that one or two vaccines may be available in the near future, it has to be ensured that the vested interests of governments do not affect pevention. After all, It is facts that will save us – even in Covid prevention.