Bhopal: Indore, one of the worst-affected cities by COVID-19 in the country has under-reported about 50% of the total cases during the second wave of the pandemic, revealed a comparative analysis of data collected by local authorities for integrating with the national database maintained by the Indian Research Medical Council (ICMR) with the publicly-released state government records.
The analysis revealed that between February 1, 2021 and May 14, 2021, a total 1,54,474 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Indore according to data uploaded by the district authorities on the ICMR portal, while the daily health bulletin from the district says that only 77,353 people had tested positive within the same duration. A total of 77,121 cases were not reported in the bulletins.
Newsclick has reviewed the data collected by health officials in Indore.
It revealed that the district authorities have kept between 25% to 60% cases under wraps in the last four months. The highest number of COVID-19 cases which were not reported came in the month of April with 48,997 cases (54.3%), followed by March with 15,139 (60%) cases, 12,246 (33.8%) cases till May 14 and 739 (25.8%) cases in February.
The data includes both real-time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) and Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) which were conducted to identify COVID-19 infected people. Upon collection of the samples, the concerned authorities uploaded the data onto the ICMR portal, generated a patient ID and sent it to government-approved labs. Nearly 7,000 to 8,000 tests a day are being conducted in Indore over the last couple of weeks, as per health officials.
Between April 23 to 29, when Indore witnessed the highest number of COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic, the district authorities did not report 12,778 cases out of a total 25,447 cases. The health authorities released data for only 12,669 patients.
“The hiding of data will impact policy making and the subsequent implementation of the scheme to tackle the situation,” pointed out Amulya Nidhi, state convenor of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.
As per the uniform testing protocols of the Government of India – whether RT-PCR or RAT – after the sample is taken, the district health authorities upload the details of the person to the ICMR portal and generate a patient ID. Subsequently, the swab or test sample is sent to government-approved laboratories and results of both the tests are declared within 24 hours of the sample collection, explained Dr. Bhure Singh Saitya, Indore's Chief Medical Health Officer (CMHO).
“The process of filing real-time data on the ICMR portal to declare the results is flawless,” said Dr. Saitya.
Later, based on the real-time data uploaded to the ICMR portal, district health officials release a daily health bulletin in the evening. But, as per Newsclick's findings, there is massive under-reporting in the data uploaded to the ICMR portal.
When contacted, Indore Collector Manish Singh refuted the findings, claiming that a mismatch in the ICMR and Health Department data was because of repeated tests on certain persons and due to patients from other districts getting tested in Indore.
“There are two major reasons behind the mismatch in both the sets of data. First, multiple tests are being conducted on a person until they recover and then there is testing of people who belong to another district. Both the sets of data are not reflected in the daily health bulletin,” he explained, adding that “80% of the mismatched data are of repeated tests and 20% are from other districts".
“We try to mark all the repeated and COVID-19 cases from other districts in the portal and make the data more accurate, but it's a tiring job,” he added.
The CMHO, Dr. Bhure Singh Saitya, made similar arguments when Newsclick asked him about the under-reporting of the data.
But, Dr. Amit Malakar, COVID-19 nodal officer of Indore, explained that the chances of repeated cases and data from people who hailed from other districts on the ICMR portal were very thin.
“Once a person’s name is registered to the ICMR portal, we don’t repeat their name in the same list, no matter how many tests are being conducted on them. We keep the records of repeated cases or tests in different categories,” Malakar said.
“As far as data from other districts is concerned, the labs shortlist reports of persons who belong to other districts and send it to the health officials of their respective districts based on the address provided during the test or as per their Aadhaar card. If the labs fail, we sent those reports to the concerned officials," he added.
A senior official of the state Health Department in Bhopal, who wished to remain anonymous, said that districts with higher COVID-19 cases have under-reported the data since the pandemic hit. “During the peak period they under-reported COVID-19 cases and later released the numbers when cases dropped in the following months,” he said.
While unhappy with the under-reporting of the data, health activist Amulya Nidhi said: “Now, it has officially been proven that Indore district authorities have been hiding the data just to cover up their failure in containing the virus. It's only a case of one district, think about the other worst COVID-hit cities in the state.”
“Hiding data during a health emergency is a punishable offence and it has cost the common people in the last couple of weeks. If districts would have released the actual data, the government would have made subsequent arrangements for Oxygen, beds and life-saving drugs which could save hundreds of lives," Amulya said. "But the Government failed to sense the actual situation because districts hide the actual data and many died due to poor preparation," Amulya added.