- Experts believe that India's COVID-19 death toll is far higher than official numbers suggest.
- One study estimates that between 1.8m and 2.4m people in India have died from the virus.
- Reports suggest that Indian officials have attempted to suppress the true figures.
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India's true COVID-19 death toll could be 5 to 7 times more than the official figures suggest, according to The Economist.
Earlier this year, the country was ravaged by a disastrous second wave of COVID-19, with widespread reports of hospitals overflowing and oxygen shortages.
The Indian health ministry claims that since the start of the pandemic, a little over 411,000 people have lost their lives to the virus. Experts now believe that the official figure is a fraction of the true death toll.
A recent paper by Christopher Leffler of Virginia Commonwealth University in America, cited by The Economist, estimates that between 1.8 million and 2.4 million people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
If true, that would mean India has by far the highest COVID-19 mortalities worldwide. Currently, the US has the highest official death toll, with over 6o0,000 recorded deaths, according to the John Hopkins University.
Another study cited by The Economist, based on insurance claims in the Indian state of Telangana, suggests that the virus death toll could be six times more than the official figures suggest.
The Indian government has rejected these reports, claiming that they are not based on scientific evidence.
Yashwant Deshmukh, chairperson of CVoter polling group, told The Economist that the misleading official figures were "not about capacity, but intent."
"And it's not about the central government or a particular party. It is about data suppression at every level, no matter who is in charge."
According to Foreign Policy, the way the Indian government records COVID-19 fatalities has obscured the true death toll.
The first problem, according to the magazine, is that India's death registration system already under-reported deaths before the pandemic. This is partly because many Indians do not receive medical treatment before passing and many deaths are not medically certified.
But some problems in registering deaths are specific to the pandemic. India's official guidance states that if a person dies without being tested for the virus or had tested negative but displayed symptoms, their death should be classified as a "suspected or probable COVID-19".
But officials from several Indian states told Foreign Policy that only people who had tested positive for the virus and then died soon after in hospital, with a clear disease progression, were counted as official COVID-19 deaths.
The magazine added that most states in India had established "death audit committees," which examine death certificates to determine what should be classed as a COVID-19 death. In some cases, the deaths of people with comorbidities were attributed to those conditions rather than to COVID-19.
India has now mostly overcome its second wave, reporting roughly 40,000 new cases a day, according to John Hopkins University. At its peak, India accounted for roughly half of the world's COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization.