The number of excess deaths in India during the Covid-19 pandemic could be as high as 49 lakh (4.9 million). A report titled ‘Three new estimates of India’s all-cause excess mortality during the Covid-19 pandemic’, said India’s coronavirus death toll is ten times higher than the actual figure reported by the Union Health Ministry.
As per the Health Ministry, India’s cumulative death toll stands at 414,482 — the world’s third-highest after the US’ 6,09,000 fatalities and Brazil’s 5,42,000 casualties. The report has been prepared by the Washington-based think tank Center for Global Development (CGD) and is co-authored by India’s former Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, Abhishek Anand, from the Harvard University and Justin Sandefur, from the CGD.
The study suggested that 34 to 47 lakh people had died from the virus from the start of the pandemic to June this year. The most critical finding of this report is that regardless of the source and estimates, the actual number of deaths during the pandemic are likely to have been much greater than the official count.
“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since Partition and Independence,” the report said. The report did not ascribe all the excess deaths to the pandemic.
The report was based on estimating “excess mortality”, the number of extra people who died compared with pre-crisis figures. It is based on sero-surveys, household data and official data. It points towards a significant underreporting of deaths in the country. It acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty within and across estimates. They range from about one million to six million deaths overall, with central estimates varying between 3.4 to 4.9 million deaths.
“We report excess mortality estimates from three different data sources from the pandemic’s start through June 2021. First, extrapolation of State-level civil registration from seven States suggests 3.4 million excess deaths. Second, applying international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates (IFR) to Indian sero-prevalence data implies a higher toll of around four million”, the authors said.
“Third, our analysis of the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, a longitudinal panel of over 8,00,000 individuals across all States, yields an estimate of 4.9 million excess deaths. Each of these estimates has shortcomings and they also diverge in the pattern of deaths between the two waves of the pandemic,” the authors added.
The report states that the first wave of Covid-19 in India was spread out in time and space, unlike the sudden and concentrated surge of cases in the second wave.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Government has also been criticised for a messy vaccination campaign that many say contributed to the worsening of the second wave of infections.
A World Health Organisation report in May said up to three times more people had died around the globe during the pandemic -- from coronavirus or other causes — than indicated by official statistics.