The discovery of several thousand unreported deaths in the state of Bihar has raised suspicion that many more coronavirus victims have not been included in official figures in India.
The health department in Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, revised its total COVID-19 related death toll to more than 9,429 from about 5,424 on Wednesday.
The newly reported deaths had occurred last month and state officials were investigating the lapse, a district health official said, blaming the oversight on private hospitals.
“These deaths occurred 15 days ago and were only uploaded now in the government portal. Action will be taken against some of the private hospitals,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Manas Mishra and Neha Arora report for Reuters that health experts say they believe both coronavirus infections and deaths are being significantly undercounted across the country partly because test facilities are rare in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live, and hospitals are few and far between.
Many people have fallen ill and died at home without being tested for the coronavirus.
“Under-reporting is a widespread problem, not necessarily deliberate, often because of inadequacies,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Reuters.
“In the rural context, whatever states may say or claim, testing is not simple, easy or accessible,” Dasgupta said.
The main opposition Congress party said that other states must follow Bihar’s example and conduct a review of deaths over the past two months.
“This proves beyond a doubt government has been hiding COVID deaths,” said Shama Mohamed, a spokeswoman for Congress, adding that an audit should also be ordered in the big states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.