Covid-19 deaths in India have surpassed Italy’s death toll now, pushing India to the 5th spot with the most deaths due to the pandemic. According to the data available from the Health Ministry, 35,747 people had succumbed to the deadly virus as of the morning of Friday, 31 July.
About half of these deaths, or around 18,000, occurred in July itself. If we break down this number further, Covid-19 killed 600 people a day, or 25 people every hour, on an average.
The major problem with the pandemic in India is that even after five months of tackling the disease, we have not been able to flatten either curve, whether it be for daily cases or daily deaths.
Covid-19 deaths in India are doubling every 32 days. If it continues at this speed, the country’s death toll may surpass even the UK’s number of around 46,000, within two weeks by mid-August. The seven-day rolling average of Covid-19 cases shows that India’s daily deaths are above 735.
Compared to the worst affected nations in the world, India is imitating the US. While the number of deaths in Brazil and Mexico are higher than those in India, the curve has begun to plateau in both the countries, and daily deaths are not rising significantly. However, India seems to be following the US where daily deaths are rising every day.
More fatal than deadliest diseases
The disease has also killed more people in a short period than some of the most fatal illnesses in the country. As there is no real-time data for deaths due to diseases in India, we have based our calculations on past records.
The Medical Certified Cause of Death is one such report that maintains the data of most of the hospitalised deaths in the country. The latest report available is for 2017. The DIU averaged the MCCD data for three years (2015-17) and calculated the average number of annual deaths by specific diseases. Since the data is not available in monthly format either, the DIU at most could divide the average number of deaths by 12 to get a clue of monthly deaths happening in India’s hospitals.
According to our calculations, based on MCCD data
The Covid-19 death toll in July, when compared with the monthly death toll of other major diseases, becomes a matter of concern as in one month, coronavirus has killed more people than any deadly disease in the country.
The DIU also compared the Covid-19 death toll with other diseases in states where the disease has been most fatal. Data shows that in Maharashtra, the pandemic killed 6,700 people in July, which is four times higher than the deaths caused by heart diseases and diseases of pulmonary circulation which kill nearly 1,700 people every month in the state.
Similarly, Covid-19 death toll in July has surpassed the deaths by heart ailments in Delhi, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. Among the top-most affected states, Tamil Nadu is an exception because coronavirus deaths are relatively lower.
However, these numbers have to be considered cautiously. On average, India witnessed 63 lakh deaths annually between 2015-17. Of these, only 12.6 lakh were medically certified. So, the actual death toll due to specific diseases can be much higher as nearly 80 per cent of the country’s deaths are not given proper medical certification. Various estimates by several external agencies would provide different death tolls for the same disease.
Professor Vineeta Bal, immunologist and faculty at IISER Pune feels that reporting exact numbers of deaths will remain a challenge for the country.
Speaking to India Today, she says, «Proper reporting of deaths requires manpower and we have a deficiency of it. India is in the list of countries where deaths are not reported in detail as manpower requirements, lack of institutionalised deaths and proper certification remain an issue.»
Will Covid-19 spike total deaths in India?
While Covid-19 is devastating the country, experts opine that it is difficult to say if it will cause a significant rise in overall deaths in India.
«It is difficult to predict if the number of coronavirus-attributable deaths will be offset in other ways. For instance, deaths due to road accidents have dropped virtually to nil during the lockdown period. Given that India sees around 150,000 deaths from traffic accidents alone in a year, this is a significant reduction,» says Professor Gautam Menon, who teaches physics and biology at Ashoka University.
Professor Bal says that though Covid-19 may increase India’s death toll this year, it would be difficult to quantify the exact amount.
«Since a pandemic doesn’t spare people from other diseases, the death toll will go up. Experts have highlighted that this month’s Covid-19 deaths are at par with monthly tuberculosis deaths. The neglect of tuberculosis might even push its death figures higher» she adds.
Professor Menon is also on the same page as far as fears around rise in non-COVID19 deaths are concerned.
He says, «I would worry more right now about the impact of patients with chronic medical conditions not being able to access medical care due to our single-minded focus on coronavirus. Our regular immunisation programs have been neglected, as has follow-up on tuberculosis cases and this has consequences for the future».