Bihar Covid deaths up 72% after court-ordered re-count

Poornima Joshi/ PT Jyothi Datta New Delhi/Mumbai | Updated on June 10, 2021

File photo of families waiting out side the temporarily built cremation centre at Giddenahalli outskirts of Bengaluru   -  BHAGYA PRAKASH .K

9,429 fatalities on Wednesday; experts say revision restores credibility in govt numbers

The dramatic revision in Bihar’s death count – a whopping over 72 per cent rise from 5,458 cumulative deaths on June 8 to 9,429 deaths on June 9 – is being described by health experts as a positive step towards restoring credibility in Covid-related fatalities in the northern States.

Pushed by the Patna High Court which had, on May 17, flagged “irregularities” in the death count, the State administration conducted a 21-day investigation in every district at two levels – one team headed by the Patna Medical College Principal and Medical Superintendent and the Head of the Department of Health and the second team involving Civil Surgeon, ACMO and a medical officer at the district level. The revised count, which states that Bihar has had 3,971 more deaths than reported before, has been officially released.

‘Unaccounted’ deaths

According to the Additional Secretary (Health) Pratyay Amrit, the “unaccounted” deaths were owing to the fact that in private hospitals, some Covid-related deaths were not counted, then deaths in-transit to health facilities, under home isolation and those dying of post-Covid-19 complications after having tested negative. All these deaths have now been accounted for. Some districts such as Kaimur, East Champaran, Saharsa and Begusarai, the deaths have risen by a whopping 200 per cent.

While this has earned the government, especially the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, sharp criticism from his political opponents, especially the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejaswi Yadav, some others in the Opposition parties admit that given the state of existing health infrastructure in Bihar, it is a welcome step. “We should first know what has happened before the aggrieved people can get some redressal. The Government has announced ₹4 lakh compensation for the dead; they have to be first counted before the families can be compensated. This only shows how badly we need to augment the health infrastructure in the State. We have to spend more on health,” said Congress MLA Shakeel Ahmad Khan, a former President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Dr Sahajanand, a member of the Bihar chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), told BusinessLine that correcting death count is a “welcome” step.

“If there has been a mistake, there is no harm in correcting it. There was a suspicion all along that a lot of deaths have not been counted. Now that the Government has done an exhaustive survey, the truth has come out. It is good to restore credibility to the numbers,” said Dr Sahjanand.

Under-counting of deaths

Former Union Health Minister and a pioneer in Kala Azar research Dr C. P. Thakur said, there could be a number of reasons for under-counting of deaths in Bihar. “You have to understand that in the first wave, rural Bihar was not hit. Death count remained very low. The second surge took the administration unawares. It is a good thing that data credibility is being restored in Bihar. There could be a number of reasons for under-reporting but I don’t think people should play politics with something like this. The Government has done well to come clean,” Dr Thakur told BusinessLine.

Past recalibrations

In the past, States like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have recalibrated death numbers.

Suresh Kakani, Additional Commissioner, Municipal Corporation Greater of Mumbai (MCGM) explains, recalibration happens when numbers are not reported in time, or as per the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) requirement with the correct details or ID; there could be a mismatch in details, spelling mistakes and these need to be checked before a Covid death is declared. Hospitals are busy with treating patients, that the paper work piles up and retracing a particular patient detail is challenging, says Kakani.

Former Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar and BJP leader Sushil Modi further explains, the death figure was low for a variety of reasons and there is no intent on the part of the Government to hide deaths.

“My own brother died in the best private hospital in Patna. But his death was not uploaded by the hospital. A lot of such deaths in private hospitals, nursing homes in rural as well as urban areas were not reported because people have not been familiar with the protocol. Also, a large number of people who tested negative, later died of Covid-related complications. The Government is giving ₹4 lakh compensation and relief to the widow and children of the victims; we would like to know how many deaths took place,” he said.

Published on June 10, 2021

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