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Explained: Why India’s Covid-19 Data Is Highly Underrated | India News


NEW DELHI: Even after more than a year of devastating coronavirus outbreaks around the world, the intensity and scale of India’s current crisis stands out, with patients desperate for oxygen shortages, pleas for help from overwhelmed hospitals and images of body bags and funeral pyres.
As daily case counts skyrocket far beyond what other countries have reported, experts warn that the official Covid-19 numbers for the world’s second most populous country are likely a massive count. But why is the Indian data considered inaccurate? Is the data less accurate than that reported by other nations? And what figures give a good indication of the crisis?
Is India counting all the cases?
India is not counting every coronavirus case, but no nation can. Worldwide, official counts generally report only confirmed cases, not actual infections. Cases are overlooked because testing is so random and because some people infected with the coronavirus experience mild or even no symptoms.
The more limited the evidence, the more cases are lost. The World Health Organization says countries should conduct 10 to 30 tests per confirmed case.
India is running around five tests for every confirmed case, according to Our World in Data, an online research site. The United States is conducting 17 tests per confirmed case. Finland is conducting 57 tests per confirmed case.
“There are still a lot of people who are not getting tested,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha of the University of Toronto. “Whole houses are infected. If one person tests at home and reports that it is positive and everyone else in the house starts to have symptoms, it is obvious that they have Covid, then why get tested?”
Jha estimates, based on the model of a previous increase in India, that the true infection figures could be 10 times higher than official reports.
And the deaths?
Deaths are a better indicator of the shape of the pandemic curve, Jha said, but there are problems with the data here as well.
“The biggest gap is what is happening in rural India,” Jha said. In the countryside, people often die at home without medical care, and these deaths are underreported. Families bury or cremate their loved ones without any official record. Seventy percent of the nation’s deaths from all causes occur in rural India in any given year.
Rural deaths can be counted, as Jha’s work with the Million Deaths Study has shown. The pre-pandemic project used in-person surveys to count deaths in rural India, capturing details of symptoms and circumstances with the results of “verbal autopsies” reviewed and recorded by doctors.
Many low- and middle-income countries have similar lower death data counts, Jha said, but India could do better.
“It is a country that has a space program. Just counting the dead is a basic function,” he said. “India should be doing much, much better.”
Does it matter?
Knowing the size and scope of the outbreak and how it is changing helps governments and health officials plan their responses.
Even with known issues with the data, the trajectory of Covid-19 cases and deaths in India is an alarming reminder of how the virus can spread through a largely unvaccinated population when precautions are removed.
“What happens in India is important to the whole world,” Dr. Amita Gupta, president of the Johns Hopkins India Institute, said in a Facebook conversation on Thursday. “We care from a humanitarian perspective, a public health perspective and a health security perspective.”

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