When in the last fifty days, Odisha saw the addition of as many as 3,097 COVID19 deaths, as per the ongoing audit of COVID19 deaths in the State, the big shocker to the fore is: Odisha reported a massive 33,353 deaths due to unknown causes during April - May this year when the second wave had a marauder run in the State.
Never before in the preceding five years, the State has ever witnessed such a surge in deaths due to unknown causes. Data shows in April - May 2019, the State had reported 784 deaths. In March 2020, the month when the first Covid-19 positive case was reported in Odisha, the deaths due to unknown causes stood at 485.
Maintaining the trend, the total deaths due to unknown causes stood at around 900 during the period of April - May 2020, the initial period of the first wave in the State and Ganjam reported cases from May only.
However, the story of the massive rise in deaths due to unknown causes in Odisha post 'Enter-the -Virus' (coronavirus) to the State has been revealed by the data with the National Health Mission (NHM), Odisha.
Enter COVID19, 'Unknown Cause' Deaths Soar
Prior to the pandemic surge in Odisha, the NHM data shows the State had reported 5,336 deaths due to unknown causes in the full year of 2019-20.
But in the year 2020-21, the year Odisha recorded the first wave peak in September, the total deaths due to unknown causes abruptly soared to a high of over 1.36 lakh - the highest ever in the last 5-years.
More corroborating facts are: Highest 'unknown causes' death totalling over 13k had been reported in Ganjam - the worst-hit district in the first wave. Districts next in order are Bargarh, Khordha and Cuttack.
Epochal Rise In 2021
However, as per the NHM data, the numbers in April - May 2021 have been humungous. The two months saw a total of 33,353 adults who died of unknown causes in the State. Moreover, a rise in deaths due to respiratory illness and other fevers was witnessed during the period of April- May this year - when the second wave was punishing the State hard.
Sample the following.
- Deaths due to respiratory disease, including infections, other than TB, in Apr-May 2021 --- 793.
- COVID19 is also described by WHO as a respiratory disease.
- In the year 2019-20, the deaths under the head in the State were 34.
- Death of Adults due to other fevers in the period of second wave in Odisha was 720.
- The number of deaths under the same head in 2019-20 April - May was 33.
The above NHM data shows Odisha witnessed a whopping 34,866 deaths during the period of Apr-May that coincided with COVID19 second wave in the State. In contrast, around 5403 deaths due to respiratory illness, other fever and unknown causes had been recorded in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, the official death toll announced till date shows that the State has reported 5177 deaths due to Covid-19 till August 19. As per the Director, Odisha Health Services, Bijay Mahapatra, the audit of Covid-19 deaths in the second wave is continuing in the State.
In the given context, has Odisha underreported Covid-19 deaths in the State? Many NGOs working on the ground in the State, and even some senior legislators in the ruling party, suspect an underreporting of Covid-19 deaths in the State.
The Supreme Court View
Not only Odisha, but the underreporting of deaths due to Covid-19 has also been a national phenomenon, and the same has snowballed into a big issue recently. As a consequence, the issue of underreporting of Covid-19 deaths by the states has reached the courtroom of the Apex Court.
And during a hearing, the country's Apex Court had asked the Centre, "Death certificates say death due to lung problem and heart issues. Families of victims have to rush from pillar to post. Is there any uniform policy on issuing death certificates to Corona victims? Or are there any guidelines?" The Apex Court had asked the Centre to file an affidavit on the issue.
Later filing an affidavit in the SC, the Centre said, "All coronavirus deaths regardless of where they take place, should be certified as Covid deaths."
And Odisha has started auditing of the deaths only after the Central guidelines were sent to the states.