AN INTENSIVE Public Health Survey (IPHS) survey in Jharkhand — the first such door-to-door counting of deaths by any state during the second wave of the pandemic — has revealed that 25,490 people died in the state during April-May 2021. This is 43 per cent higher than 17,819 total deaths officially registered across all 24 districts in April-May 2019 as per the Directorate of Economics and Statistics in the state’s Planning Department.
The Planning Department is yet to receive updated data on registered deaths from districts for calendar year 2020 and 2021, and hence comparisons with corresponding period in the previous year or with sequential months in the current year are not possible.
The door-to-door IPHS, originally planned to cover the entire 3.5 crore population of the state, was restricted to the rural areas, and eventually covered 2.56 crore people or almost three-fourths of the population. It was conducted between May 25 and June 5 with the help of over 80,000 sahiyas or Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwives) and Community Health Officers (CHOs).
The two primary objectives of the survey were: i) to spread awareness, test for Covid-19, provide advice on medication, and prevent the spread of the pandemic, and ii) to count the deaths in rural areas with concerns that deaths were not being recorded.
When asked about the sharp rise in the number of deaths as indicated in the survey, Arun Singh, Additional Chief Secretary (Health), Jharkhand told The Indian Express, “More than 25,000 deaths were recorded during the survey. We, however, still do not know what caused these deaths. We have now initiated another exercise to ascertain the cause of the deaths recorded in the survey.”
Officially, the state has said there were 3,864 deaths due to Covid-19 during April-May this year. Officials in the state Planning Department warned against making a simplistic comparison of this with the survey findings.
“There are two points to note: i) In a normal year 2019, the number of deaths officially registered were as high as 17,819. You have to understand that a door-to-door survey will always allow for very good capture of death data. ii) Unlike in urban areas, deaths are not necessarily registered in rural areas,” said an official.
But some deaths, as recorded in the IPHS, could be linked to Covid-19, officials involved in the exercise said. For example, during a fortnight in May, there were 15 deaths in the Haidernagar block in Palamu district. A team sent by Palamu Deputy Commissioner Shashi Ranjan to evaluate the cause of these deaths found that seven persons of the 15 dead had ‘cough and cold’ (indicating possibility of having contracted Covid-19). The remaining eight deaths were attributed to ‘other causes’. But none of the 15 deaths were officially recorded as Covid-19 deaths.
Sishir Choudhary, Junior Statistical Officer at Jharkhand DES, who analyses the deaths data and sends it to the Office of the Registrar General and Census Commissioner under Union Ministry of Home Affairs, said the sharp increase in deaths as seen from the survey may also be because not all deaths were registered in rural areas in the past. He, however, said, “Some increase may be due to suspected Covid-19 deaths.”