Almost 500,000 Covid deaths in India: an official toll six times lower than the reality?

HEAVY ASSESSMENT – The publication of a recent study in the journal Science supports the thesis of a human toll of Covid-19 that is very largely underestimated in India. The virus would not have claimed 500,000 there, but 3.3 million victims.

In Europe and in the rest of the most developed countries, health authorities are rigorously monitoring deaths linked to Covid-19. However, it is difficult to say the same on a global scale, as not all countries have the necessary tools to assess the indicators linked to the epidemic. The case of India, in this respect, is symbolic. While the authorities officially declare 483,463 deaths attributed to the virus, specialists have suspected for many months a massive underestimation.

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At the beginning of January, a study published in the very serious journal Nature accredits the thesis of a much heavier balance sheet. There would thus be more than 3.2 million deaths linked to Covid, six times more than the government figures. This is enough to boost the global balance sheet and raise fears of similar situations in other countries.

A hidden mortality

In the speeches of some “reassuring”, seeking to minimize the magnitude of the Covid on a global scale, we often find comparisons with other pandemics that have occurred in the past. With a total of 5.4 million officially declared deaths across the globe, we are indeed far from the terrible toll of the Black Death, which is estimated to have killed around 200 million people in the mid-14th century.

If medicine has progressed and the mortality linked to SARS-CoV-2 is not similar, today we must be wary of official counts. Besides the fact that the epidemic continues actively and continues to kill, the toll of previous waves remains in some countries very unreliable. The one presented by India in particular. The prestigious scientific journal Science, on January 6, reported that a “Renowned epidemiologist who claimed the country was spared the worst of Covid-19 has conducted a rigorous new analysis of available mortality data.” He thus concluded that he was greatly mistaken.

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According to Prabhat Jha, who plays at the University of Toronto, “India has a number of deaths from Covid-19 ‘considerably higher’ than official reports suggest – nearly 3 million, more than six times more than the government has acknowledged and the highest number of any country.” Science, which publishes the work of the team of researchers, emphasizes that this work “could bring other countries with abnormally low death rates under scrutiny and push up the total death toll of the pandemic worldwide.”

Aware that official Indian sources would not be able to establish a reliable balance sheet, the researchers notably made their estimates using data obtained from an independent polling institute. The latter interviewed nearly 140,000 people across India by telephone, asking if anyone in each household had died of Covid-19. The returns of the populations were thus compared with the data that were expected if one relied on government records. And experts were quick to observe large discrepancies, confirming the hypothesis of a massive underreporting of deaths. Other methods were then used to refine their conclusions.

“The design of the study is solid”, reacted a WHO official, saying that “countries can learn from this approach” to provide estimates of excess mortality. The World Health Organization, she added, is also working on an assessment of deaths on a global scale, based not only on official data, but on analyzes bypassing the sub -statements such as those seen in India.

If the Indian authorities have been clearly incriminated by researchers for many months, the major differences between the official and unofficial reports could be explained as much by the desire to hide the extent of the epidemic, as by a massive disorganization of the health system. . The tools put in place for the census of deaths indeed presented major malfunctions before the onset of Covid, so much so that data was already missing in 2018. The health crisis that followed therefore undoubtedly only accentuated the disorganization of a country six times larger than France, and which has no less than 1.4 billion inhabitants.

Do you want to ask us questions or submit information that you do not believe is reliable? Do not hesitate to write to us at lesverifié[email protected]. Find us also on Twitter: our team is there behind the account @verif_TF1LCI.

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