Srikakulam: A 50-year-old man from Mandasa village in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh died of Covid-19 at Government General Hospital on June 16. It was officially the first Covid-19 death in the district.

An RTI reply has exposed the government and proved that the state has been under-reporting Covid19 deaths. Contrary to government claims, Srikakulam district has seen many deaths in 2020-21.

The RTI query was filed by Dr Kota Neelima, an author and Director at the Institute of Perception Studies.

As per the Andhra Pradesh government death tally, the district reported 476 deaths till May 15. In the RTI reply, the District Registrar of Births and Deaths and District Medical & Health Officer said they had issued 495 Death Certificate till May 15, 2021, with Covid19 as the cause of death, and 22 Death Certificates as comorbidities as the cause of death.

As per Andhra Pradesh government data, the coastal district has seen 751 deaths, the third-lowest Covid 19 fatality in the state till date.

"All governments are under pressure to show that pandemic has been under control. That has led to under-reporting or slow reporting of deaths, hiding shortages, and other data suppression. As far as Srikakulam is concerned, the response to our RTI reveals the mismatch between the higher number of death certificates issued and the reported COVID-19 deaths by the government. It is for the government to explain why some deaths of citizens have been excluded from the data." said Dr Kota Neelima.

Excess Deaths

Excess death or Excess mortality is a term used in epidemiology and public health that refers to the number of deaths from all causes during a crisis above and beyond what we would have expected to see under 'normal' conditions.

Excess death is a more comprehensive measure of the total impact of the pandemic than confirmed Covid19 death count alone. It analyses confirmed deaths and Covid 19 deaths that were not correctly reported as well as deaths from other causes attributable to the overall crisis.

Overall the number of deaths recorded by the District Registrar of Births and Deaths shows that Srikakulam has recorded Excess Deaths from April 2020 to March 2021, as compared to the pre-pandemic period from April 2018 to March 2020.

As per the Death Certificates provided by the district officials, from April 2018 to March 2019, 19,974 fatalities have been recorded. From April 2019 to March 2020, a total of 20,558 deaths (an increase of 2.9 percent from the previous year) have been recorded.

However, between April 2020 and March 2021, the death toll has been recorded 18.81 percent more than the previous year. From April 2020 to March 2021, around 24,425 death certificates have been issued by the district officials.

During the second wave, Excess Deaths have increased drastically. In May 2018, the District Registrar of Births and Deaths issued 1573 death certificates (51 deaths per day), while in May 2019, they issued 1546 death certificates (50 deaths per day), in May 2020, they issued 1676 death certificates (54 deaths per day). However, when the second wave hit the state in 2021, the number increased two-fold. In May 2021, the district officials issued 1705 death certificates within 15 days (114 deaths per day).

Similarly, during the first wave in August and September 2020, when the pandemic gripped the state, the district had Excess Deaths. In August 2018, the district official issued 1613 death certificates, while in August 2019, the district official issued 1732 death certificates (an increase of 7.35 percent). But, in August 2020, the district officials issued 2938 death certificates (an increase of 69.63 percent).

In September 2018, the district officials issued 1675 death certificates, while in September 2019, the district officials issued 1759 death certificates (an increase of 5 percent). But in September 2020, the district officials issued 3110 death certificates (an increase of 76.8 percent). Similarly, in other months of 2020, the district showed an increase in deaths. Most of these deaths were observed in rural areas of the district.

Many deaths would have occurred due to the lack of access to health services. "Access to health services, shortages of oxygen, medicines, injections, and ventilator beds, among others, have been reasons for higher Covid 19 mortality. Some of these can be the reason for deaths in Srikakulam. As citizens, we deserve to know what happened to every fellow citizen who died. But, it is only because of the high numbers revealed in the RTI that we are even getting to know about the deaths," said Dr Kota Neelima.

According to the National Health Survey (2019-20), 80.2 percent (rural- 76.6 percent rural, urban- 89.4 percent) deaths were registered with the civil authorities in Andhra Pradesh. Srikakulam has a population of around 2,881,830 (estimates as per Aadhar uidai.gov.in February 2019 data), and most of the population stays in rural areas of the district.

"I filed the RTI so that no death of an Indian citizen goes unreported or unrecognized. Whether due to Covid or any other reasons, those who died and people who remember them deserve the dignity of being acknowledged. As a researcher, I am deeply concerned about the trends of data discrepancies coming to light at the district levels. Institute of Perception Studies will collate and analyze the RTI responses that we are receiving from every corner of the country," said Dr Kota Neelima.

Sumit Kumar Jha

Sumit Kumar Jha is currently a multimedia journalist with Newsmeter. An alumnus of Hyderabad Central University and Amity University, he has interned with The New Indian Express and CGNet Swara. Sumit has also worked with video production houses in Mumbai as an assistant director in shows like 21 Sarfrosh for Discovery Jeet. He is specialised in Video Production. He was also the contributor at PARI network. Hailing from rural Bihar has spent his childhood shifting from places and people. Growing up he felt the need to document the lives and dreams of rural India. A lover of visual storytelling goes around the cities to search for Stories. He primarily reports on civic, human interest and data stories.

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