It was not like before when Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma used to update on Covid 19 infection and deaths at a real-time basis on his tweeter handle. Now, he does it once in a day, mostly evening. However, despite the updates are less, the numbers of Covid19 positive cases and deaths are on the constant up.
So far over 400 people have died of Covid 19 in Assam. But what worries is Sarma’s recent statement when he said that there might be more deaths, nearly 1000, due to Covid19 but not recorded. His statement can be assessed in such a way that there are deaths due to the virus infection but either not in a hospital or not recorded medically.
On July 11, the Assam government formed a death audit board for Covid-19 in accordance with the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR’s) guidelines. “Officially a death will be attributed to Covid-19 only after the board has ascertained it,” the minister then informed. But the fact is that ICMR has never recommended states to establish death audit panels. Yet, several states have set them up.
But reports have revealed that in Assam, the death audit board seems to be doing the complete opposite task – discounting deaths that should have been considered Covid-19 fatalities as per the ICMR protocol. A recent report claimed that the board has discounted at least 550 people who died after testing positive for Covid-19 and termed non-Covid 19 deaths based on several technicalities of the guidelines. It was also found that people who have posthumously tested positive for Covid-19 in Assam were also not been counted in the total death toll.
Surveys have found that in India, undercounting of Covid-19 deaths comes in two types. First are the suspected Covid-19 deaths – people with clinical symptoms of the disease but there was no laboratory confirmation. These deaths have been ignored almost across the board in India. The second is the failure to count deaths of laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 cases. This is what Assam has allegedly done. According to the board in the state, the cause of death in those cases was not Covid-19, but other comorbidities.
Going by the trend, it can be guessed easily that almost over 50% of the deaths of lab-confirmed positive cases have not been counted as Covid-19 deaths.
Ironically, Assam is officially the state with the lowest mortality rate in India with 0.30% of death rate.