Crematoria, district hospitals report far higher fatalities due to COVID-19 than the Health Department
The remarkable consistency in the daily COVID-19 fatalities recorded over the last two weeks in Gujarat — ranging between 12 and 16 — has raised eyebrows among public health experts, medical fraternity and the Opposition in the State.
With a surge in cases in rural areas of the State, local doctors in districts allege that the numbers shared by the Health Department are massive underreporting and far from the actual number of deaths due to the virus.
Highlighting the discrepancy in reporting, senior Congress legislator Vikram Madam from Jamnagar, on Saturday said: “In Jamnagar district, as per the government data, total 26 deaths have occurred due to COVID-19. But I have list of 182 dead bodies which were disposed off as per the COVID-19 guidelines in just one crematorium in Jamnagar city.”
Speaking to media persons at the crematorium, Mr Madam shared the names of the 182 persons who had reportedly died of coronavirus infection and been cremated according to government protocols.
“I challenge the government to dispute the figures I am disclosing here. Why is the BJP government playing with the public health? Why are real figures not being disclosed to public at large,” Mr. Madamasked.
Jamnagar is not an isolated example of the wide variation in numbers shared by the Health Department and numbers sourced from civic bodies, crematoria and burial grounds.
According to a leading doctor in Junagadh, around 7-8 deaths have occurred due to the COVID-19 every day for the last one month but these are not reflected in the consolidated official numbers.
In Rajkot, according to reports in a prominent local daily, while 25 persons died due to COVID-19 on Friday, the government press release listed only one death.
“In Rajkot, over 900 dead bodies have been cremated/buried according to the COVID-19 guidelines. But the government figure [for fatalities] is little over 100,” a prominent doctor from the city told The Hindu, requesting anonymity.
After local media reports on the large number of deaths due to the virus, the authorities tightened norms, restraining local hospitals from releasing figures, and curtailed media access to hospitals.
“There is a death audit committee in every COVID-19 hospital which determines the cause of the death and normally, co-morbid patients who died after they got infected are not included in the COVID-19 deaths,” a doctor and member of the audit committee from Rajkot said.
“In August, 334 bodies were handed over as per the COVID-19 protocol in Rajkot civil and private hospitals,” a senior government official said.
Under-reporting has been noted in Ahmedabad and Surat also. Gujarat Congress spokesman Manish Doshi obtained data under RTI which contradicts the official figures.
As per the figures obtained by Mr. Doshi from the civic body under the RTI, in March total deaths in Ahmedabad 2,685, in April 3,052, in May 6,147, June 4,968 and first five days of July 584. These figures are only from crematoriums and do not include burials.
“As per the official figures of Covid deaths, 3 deaths in March, 144 in April, 686 in May, 572 in June, 151 in July and 117 in August,” Mr Doshi said, asking why there is huge variation in monthly deaths reported from crematoriums.
In Surat the official death toll from COVID-19 is around 692 but privately doctors in the city estimate the figures to be between 1300 to 1500.
However, State Health Department has barred all local civic and district administrations from sharing and disseminating details of COVID-19 cases and fatalities. The Department compiles and shares the consolidated data from Gandhinagar.
As on Saturday, the State’s fatality count was 3,198 while caseload stands at 1,12,336.
“I believe there is some mismatch between the actual numbers and the ones being put out publicly by the government. May be now co-morbid patients who succumb are not included in the category of COVID-19 deaths,” a leading Infectious disease expert and member of the state task force told The Hindu.