The daily death numbers that the Karnataka state health ministry puts out often include deaths that occurred as far back a month ago. Cumbersome reporting procedures and delays in collating data mean the numbers put out daily by the health department are inaccurate, and reflect a backlog in reporting.
Sample this: On 14 July, the state’s medical education minister K Sudhakar announced that there were 87 deaths. But an analysis of the 103-page report from the state health department of the same day shows that only one death (in Ballari district) was recorded in the entire state on that day. The remaining 86 deaths occurred on other days.
Similarly, the report for 13 July, (a copy of which is in Mint’s possession) listed 73 deaths in one day. In reality, the list had just one death from Belagavi district relating to that day. The remaining 72 deaths occurred between 12 June and 13 July, 2020.
Government officials overseeing covid management in the state admitted that there is indeed a backlog in death announcements, and that the daily toll included past cases. “There has been communication gap. So it is being included in the daily bulletin now,” a senior officer said.
Maharashtra too faced a backlog in recording deaths but it released a report specifying that the figures related to deaths that occurred in previous months. “Karnataka should do this too. Without an accurate count of daily deaths, we do not know the real-time status, which is necessary to draw up policy and preventive plans to contain the virus,” said an analyst.
Another challenge say government officials is the elaborate process involved in collating information and recording a death after a covid-19 patient dies. For instance, if a death takes place in Kalaburagi district, 575km from Bengaluru where the state health department is headquartered, it needs signatures of the panchayat head, taluk and district officials, and then the district health officer, who certifies the death. This takes time and delays the reporting.
“We are in the process of streamlining the system and plugging the gaps,” said state health minister B Sreemulu.
Dr Pramukh N, medical advisor to Bangalore South BJP MP Tejeswi Surya, said: “While the focus must be to record deaths in real time, the objective must be to prevent more deaths in the state. To ensure low mortality rate, testing must be ramped up so that we are able to curb the virus at an early stage.”