india

Virus toll much higher than bulletins suggest

Want true picture to come out so that people can be more alert, say doctors

The number of daily COVID-19 deaths in the State are higher than the figures mentioned in the media bulletin issued by the Health department, according to an increasing number of doctors in government hospitals.

The doctors, who have been making the claim for the past few weeks, opine that presenting the true picture of the pandemic’s extent will further alert people and prompt them to take precautions. Multiple sources said the number of daily deaths at Gandhi Hospital, which has been turned into an exclusive COVID care facility again this year, alone are higher than the total fatalities mentioned in the media bulletins.

‘Each death recorded’

“The deaths at Gandhi Hospital were 72 and 63 on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Details of every COVID patient’s death are meticulously recorded. Number of deaths during a particular duration of a day, photos of the bodies, a copy of their basic details issued by hospitals, the ward in which the patient died and other details are collected at all hospitals. Senior officials keep track of it,” sources in the hospital said.

“If the deaths at other hospitals such as Government General Hospital in Nizamabad, Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences (TIMS) and other hospitals are considered, the number will be many times more than what the media bulletins say. We all have real-time numbers. But we believe presenting the true picture will help people understand the gravity of the pandemic and push them to take precautions,” sources said.

The doctors said there are some reasons for a high number of deaths at Gandhi Hospital. Some private hospitals have been sending COVID patients to the Gandhi when a patient’s chance of survival is bleak.

“Despite our best efforts, the patients cannot be saved as they are sent to us in their end stage, and people blame us doctors for the deaths. That is unfair,” a doctor from the hospital said.

Sources maintained that Gandhi Hospital and TIMS were overstretched with COVID patients and the toll was rising gradually because the highly critical cases were rushed to these two hospitals from private facilities.

Death audit panel

When concerns over the death toll were raised last year, senior officials in the State Health department said they have death audit committees which assess and conclude the reason of death of a COVID patient.

Officials earlier said serious co-morbidities are the reason for a coronavirus patient’s death. In such cases, death is attributed to the co-morbidity or a reason other than COVID-19.

Highly placed sources in the Health department also echoed similar concerns, but added that the death count in the bulletin was based on the audit committee’s report certifying it as a COVID fatality. “There are instances when the past medical history of a COVID deceased person is not available immediately. In such cases, the bodies are released to the family members but the death is added to the bulletin once the committee certifies the reason,” a key figure in the department maintained.

The death rate in private hospitals, too, is alarming. Managements of several corporate hospitals admitted their ICU beds were full and efforts to save the lives of several highly critical COVID patients with badly damaged lungs was becoming a Herculean task.

On condition of anonymity, corporate hospitals put the daily coronavirus deaths at a minimum of 30. “We are reporting 10 deaths daily from our group of hospitals in the Twin Cities alone,” said a representative of a leading corporate hospital while another executive confirmed more deaths and pointed out that in the second wave of the pandemic, a majority of victims were young people.

Last rites

The scene at major crematoriums handling COVID last rites also makes one question the low number of deaths shown in media bulletins. Crematoriums witness the steady arrival of ambulances and other last journey vans throughout the day.

On Saturday, a world-class crematorium in the western part of Hyderabad got busy quite early in the morning. By 11 a.m., eight ambulances had lined up with the mortal remains for last rites.

Similarly, another crematorium in Amberpet, too, saw a series of funerals while the crematorium behind ESI Hospital continued to be the hub of last rites. Curiously, the media has been barred from entering any of these places. The managers of those crematoriums were tight-lipped about the number of funerals being held.

On the other hand, the city police have stopped issuing no-objection certificates to the families of COVID-deceased persons maintaining that there was not much of a necessity for the certificate with rules relaxed. However, the government and private hospitals were diligently reporting each COVID death in their respective police station limits.

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