Patna: Four days after the official COVID-19 death toll was revised by the Bihar government triggering huge controversy, the numbers are still far from the reality. This is because several private hospitals in the state are reportedly yet to submit the number of deaths recorded due to the virus to the concerned authorities.
As per the revised official COVID-19 death toll, the Bihar government added 3,951 more deaths on June 8 that led the toll to rise to 9,375, a big jump (72.8%) from the earlier reported death toll of 5,424 till June 7.
However, the Opposition as well as health experts have raised questions over the revised death toll, claiming that fatalities are much than reported by the government. They allege that COVID-19 deaths from rural areas and private hospitals in towns and semi urban areas have not yet been recorded by the officials. Reports from the ground support their claims.
For instance, private hospitals in Patna have failed to submit the number of COVID-19 deaths recorded during the second wave in April and May 2021. While the Patna Civil Surgeon had asked 28 private hospitals of Patna to submit COVID-19 toll within three days till June 11, the hospitals are reportedly yet to submit the numbers.
“There is no information from private hospitals, they have ignored the directive of the civil surgeon to report the list of COVID-19 deaths in their hospitals,” a district health official told NewsClick.
NewsClick made several attempts to contact the Civil Surgeon of Patna to find out whether any action has been taken against the private hospitals for their failure to meet the surgeon’s directives, but without any response.
Only a few private hospitals in Patna and in other districts have submitted the figures to the district officials or concerned officials have collected data from them.
It is not only the case of Patna alone, most of the private hospitals in 37 districts of the state are reportedly following the same pattern.
“If data of COVID-19 deaths is collected from all the private hospitals including medium and small hospitals in the district headquarters, sub-divisional towns and block level towns, then the total toll is set to be double if not more,” another health official said.
“Real death figures will surface only after collecting data from each panchayat level in all 38 districts. In the revised death toll, data has been collected from hospitals and homes in urban and semi urban areas, not from rural areas that were worst hit by COVID-19 infection this year unlike last year,” the official added.
The Patna High Court on Friday (June 11), while hearing a case related to the pandemic, observed that even the revised COVID-19 death toll is far from real. The court expressed its unhappiness over the government’s attitude and asked it to make data of births and deaths transparent.
The bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and S Kumar also observed orally that irregularities or mistakes on part of the government related to figures of COVID-19 deathS is a serious matter and that it exposes the government machiney
Last month after the Patna HC had pulled up the government over irregularities in death figures in Buxar district as floating bodies of suspected COVID-19 infected were found in river Ganga, the government was forced to start an audit of deaths due to the virus across the state.
According to Dr Sunil Kumar, secretary of the Indian Medical Association Bihar, the revised death toll is far from the reality.
A health activist Dr Shakeel said, “We have got reports that the officials counted the COVID-19 deaths only from the government-run hospitals. They simply did not take into consideration deaths reported outside the government health system. The real toll would be at least two-three times more.”
Meanwhile, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey has denied that the state government has tried to hide the figure of COVID-19 death toll.
Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav targeted the NDA government led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for a deliberate move to hide the death toll at the cost of misleading people.
Yadav, who also the Leader of the Opposition in the state, has demanded a judicial probe into deaths due to COVID-19 in the state.
Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said while the government is trying to hide the death toll due to the virus, their party will soon collect the real numbers from the ground. "The CPI (ML) will expose the false death toll by brining real death toll. The party workers with the help of supporters and common people in villages will collect data of death toll from districts and will release it in public," he said.
CPI (ML), which has 12 MLAs in Bihar Assembly, is known for its stronghold in rural areas.