Massive COVID Undercount in India and Africa

NPR reports that an Indian village with 1600 people had fifty people die from COVID in the past two weeks. Most of them died at home, gasping for breath, with fevers. Only five or six of them were officially counted as COVID-19 deaths.

Across India, there are shortages of testing kits, hospital beds, medical oxygen and antiviral drugs, as a severe second wave of the pandemic crushes India’s health infrastructure.

India spends 1% of its GDP on its healthcare system.

India has officially counted 19 million known infections since the start of the pandemic, or roughly 1.3% of the total population and the recent daily total is just over 400,000 cases.

This is being undercounted by 5 to 10 times.

Across India, funeral pyres light up the night sky. Playgrounds and parking lots in the capital New Delhi have been converted into mass cremation grounds.

Mass funeral pyres all over the country does not match up with an official daily COVID death count of 3000.

No Good Death Counts and Records in Most of Africa Under Normal Circumstances

Only eight African countries record their dead which means there are no good tracking of COVID or any other cause of death. Only Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Seychelles and Mauritius functioning, compulsory and universal civil registration systems (CRVS systems) which record deaths.

The other countries have paper-based systems which are used for some local services.

It is impossible to calculate “excess deaths” because of the lack of national digital records.

The medical and health systems are poor which results in high infant and maternal mortality. It also means that diseases are often not diagnosed or treated.

More Indirect Deaths than COVID Deaths

There is likely indirect COVID deaths and COVID deaths that are missed. The pandemic can overstretch health systems, fear of attending hospital and an economic downturn. A Lancet study across 118 low-income and middle-income countries estimated that the continued disruption of health systems from Covid-19 could result in 1,157,000 additional child deaths and 56,700 additional maternal deaths.

South Africa had recorded over 150,000 excess deaths since the pandemic began – that is almost three times the official figure given for Covid-19 deaths.

If COVID is hitting other countries in Africa the same as it is hitting South Africa then there are over 1 million COVID deaths and 3 million indirect deaths caused by COVID’s impact on health systems.

Written by Brian Wang,

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