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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Rajasthan: All-cause death registrations jumped 92% in April-June

🔴 Against 32,663 death registrations in 2019, rural parts of the 11 districts recorded 50,583 deaths in April-June this year.

Written by Shivnarayan Rajpurhoit | New Delhi |
Updated: November 29, 2021 10:53:27 am
Deaths are registered at the place of occurrence, regardless of one’s domicile.

All-cause death registrations in rural areas of 11 districts in Rajasthan jumped by 77.14% in April-June this year, when the second Covid wave peaked, compared to the corresponding period in 2019, according to government data received by The Indian Express under the Right to Information Act.

Against 32,663 death registrations in 2019, rural parts of the 11 districts recorded 50,583 deaths in April-June this year. According to experts, this number could be even higher as many deaths occurred in hospitals in urban areas. Deaths are registered at the place of occurrence, regardless of one’s domicile.

The 11 districts — Ajmer, Alwar, Barmer, Jalore, Jhunjhunu, Karauli, Pali, Nagaur, Hanumangarh, Dungarpur and Jhalawar — comprise 31% of the state population, and 85% of them live in rural areas. Unlike the first Covid wave peaking in November-December last year, the second wave did not spare villages. The comparison is based in 2019 as it was a non-Covid year.

Data representation of deaths reported in several districts of Rajasthan.

Overall, death registrations jumped by 91.58% — from 37,363 to 71,582 — in the three months this year. The percentage increase in urban areas was steeper at 138.40% — from 8,808 to 20,999. The share of urban areas in total deaths increased from 23.57% to 29.33%. In April-June this year, the 11 districts officially attributed only 1,132 deaths to Covid-19 while for all the districts, the number stood at 6,099.

In the 11 districts, excess mortality (all-cause deaths in 2021 minus the official Covid toll, divided by all-cause deaths in 2019) was 1.9 times.

Of the 11 districts, Pali reported the highest surge at 116.09% (from 4,001 to 8,646), followed by Nagaur’s 113.69% (from 4,666 to 9,971) and Jalore’s 113.59% (2,612 to 5,579). Karauli and Jhunjhunu witnessed the least increase at 48.48% (1,974 to 2,931) and 49.32% (3,572 to 5,334).

Though the second Covid wave peaked in April-May, June also saw higher death registrations, perhaps indicating that people visited their nearby registration centres after the lockdown was lifted. The 11 districts logged 21,665 all-cause deaths in June this year compared to 13,839 in 2019 — a rise of 56.55%.

According to statistics officials, death registrations were provided from the Pehchaan portal, which reflects the real-time data fed by rural and urban bodies. The portal is used to prepare the Central Registration System (CRS) reports in Rajasthan.

What queers the pitch further is that fewer than 15% of the total state deaths are medically certified. However, the 2020 CRS report identified 97.17% of the total estimated deaths — up 4 per centage points from the previous year.

“In these months, Covid did take precedence (over other death causing events). But we also need to see if reporting has improved or not. On the percentage increase in urban Rajasthan, we should bear in mind that if a villager dies in an urban hospital, the death will be registered under the ‘urban’ category. Another factor is the death of migrant workers registered here. So the jump may not reflect a true picture unless we go through details of each death,” said Prof Hemkhothang Lhungdim, Head of Department of Public Health and Mortality Studies at the International Institute of Population Sciences in Mumbai.

A senior official, who was part of the team overseeing the state’s Covid preparedness in the second wave, said another reason for the excess deaths could be other diseases. “In April-May, our main focus was Covid. This severely affected other patients. After noticing this, we chalked out a plan to ensure that patients suffering from other diseases are not inconvenienced in a possible third wave.”

Public Health Director K K Sharma said the state was always transparent in reporting correct Covid deaths. “A good policy or management is based on transparent data. And this has been the main thrust of our Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot,” he said. Amid allegations of underreporting Covid deaths during the second wave, the state had set up an audit committee in June. The report, recently submitted to the government, has not revised the existing Covid toll except in “one or two suspected cases”, said Sharma, who was a member of the panel.

Repeated calls did not elicit any response from Raghu Sharma, who resigned as the state health minister in the recent Cabinet reshuffle.

The Indian Express first filed an RTI application with the Economics and Statistics Department of the Rajasthan government on July 7, seeking monthly break-up of death registrations in all the 33 districts. After the first appeal, the department provided the annual data on September 7, saying the CRS does not follow the monthly frequency. Following this, this paper filed RTI applications to the 33 district statistics officials on September 11-12. Only 11 districts replied while the rest either failed to respond to the application or furnished annual registrations.

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