Massive under-reporting of deaths suspected in Gujarat

Many dying in rural areas without being tested or treated

Though the pace of increase in coronavirus infections has slowed down as have the number of COVID-19 deaths in Gujarat, the State continues to see a sharp mismatch in the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by the health authorities. Now, with the number of deaths emerging from rural and remote districts, official figures appear lower by as much as 20 times in some districts.

The Hindu had earlier reported on the large-scale under reporting of deaths in major municipal cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Gandhinagar.

However, the figures from rural districts reported in local media based on information from cremation grounds and local government offices from the State’s north, south and central regions, and Saurashtra and Kutch, bring out the horror of the pandemic’s devastating second wave.

For example, in Surendranagar district, there were 814 deaths in March 2020 and 957 deaths in March 2021. In April 2020, there were 784 deaths while in the same month this year (2021), the total deaths in the district stood at a high 3,140. In the month of May 2020, 756 deaths were reported from the district whereas only till May 8, 2021, that figure stood at 1,739.

“I have obtained the month-wise figures from the district panchayat and other agencies and compiled them to show how much under-counting of deaths is being resorted to by the Gujarat government,” said Congress legislator Naushad Solanki from Surendranagar district.

He added that there was a difference of more than 3,000 deaths in a less than 70-day period in the years 2020 and 2021. But as on May 15, the official death toll in Surendranagar district has been around 130 since the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020.

Mr. Solanki and other legislators of the Opposition party have urged the Gujarat government to come clean on the real number of deaths as the pandemic is ravaging villages where many people are dying without being tested or receiving any form of treatment.

Similarly, Dharampur is a small town in south Gujarat, with a population of approximately 25,000 as per the 2011 census. According to information published in local papers, 265 bodies were cremated and 35 buried in the 20 days from April 10 to 30, 2021.

“The second wave has massively hit villages and smaller towns with hardly any functional medical amenities to cope with the flow of patients so there is certainly a much higher mortality in such places,” a District Collector told The Hindu.

The official added that government figures could not reflect the true extent of the deaths caused by the pandemic because many had died without being tested or receiving proper diagnosis and treatment.

In another south Gujarat town Olpad and in 60 villages of Olpad taluka, 364 bodies were cremated or buried with COVID-19 protocols in March and April.

“There is a massive undercounting of deaths in our villages. In Tapi district alone, more than 1,500 people have already died of COVID-19 as there is not a single village that hasn’t seen a COVID-19 death. Unfortunately, the Gujarat government is not recognising it,” said former Union minister and Congress leader Dr. Tushar Chaudhary.

After Dr. Chaudhary shared the village-wise death numbers with local media in Tapi district, stating that over 1,500 persons had died, the Chief Medical Officer in a release said 110 people had died as on May 12 in Tapi district.

On Friday, a news report in the State’s leading daily Divya Bhaskar claimed that Gujarat had issued about 1,23,000 death certificates between March 1 and May 10, as against about 58,000 death certificates issued during the same period in 2020, and that they had verified these deaths after collecting data from 33 districts of the State.

However, for the period from March 1 to May 10, the government of Gujarat had officially admitted to only 4,218 COVID-19 related deaths.

After the report triggered a controversy, the Gujarat government on Saturday in a statement rejected the discrepancy in its figures and stated that the government was following the Indian Council of Medical Research guidelines in declaring COVID-19 deaths.

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