Gwydion M. Williams via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


New CGD paper reveals significant underreporting of deaths in India

A new Center for Global Development (CGD) working paper aims to quantify excess deaths from all causes, during the Covid-19 pandemic, based on state data, international estimates, serological studies and household surveys.

India’s official Covid-19 death count as of end-June 2021 was 400,000; but what is the true toll of the pandemic in the country? The CGD working paper on ‘Three New Estimates of India’s All-Cause Excess Mortality during the COVID-19 Pandemic’ – written with support from the Covid Collective – reports excess mortality estimates from three different data sources from the pandemic’s start through June 2021.

These estimates are as follows:

  • Extrapolation of state-level civil registration from seven states suggests 3.4 million excess deaths.
  • Applying international estimates of age-specific infection fatality rates to Indian seroprevalence data implies a higher toll of around 4 million.
  • An analysis of the Consumer Pyramid Household Survey, a longitudinal panel of over 800,000 individuals across all states, yields an estimate of 4.9 million excess deaths.

Despite the estimates’ shortcomings, the paper outlines three important takeaways. First, due to the uncertainty within and across estimates (They range from about 1 million to 6 million overall), it is imperative that research continues to estimate more precisely Covid-19 -related deaths. It is equally imperative that government aid this effort by making available all the data on sero surveys and deaths it has generated.

Secondly, the first wave seems to have been more lethal than is popularly believed. The Indian national Civil Registration System data suggest that up to 2 million might have died in that period. Not grasping the scale of the tragedy in real time in the first wave may have bred the collective complacency that led to the horrors of the second wave.

Finally, actual deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to have been an order of magnitude greater than the official count. True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence.

Read the working paper here