Is India's Covid-19 death rate five times higher than official figures suggest?

India is still riding the vicious tail of its first wave of Covid-19 infections.

A country of 1.5 billion people has apparently has a death toll mercifully lower than expected.

Officially, 141,000 people have died and the country has had 9.7 million cases.

But there is a school of thought which argues this vastly underestimates reality.

Dr Arun Madhavan is a GP in the southern State of Kerala.

  • Dr Madhavan estimates the death toll to be at least five times higher than is currently being reported

With a group of dedicated colleagues he has been monitoring deaths statistics as reported in local newspapers and TV stations, and then comparing them with the official figures.

He has concluded there is a massive under reporting of Covid related deaths.

Extrapolating across the whole of India he concludes that the real death toll so far is more like 500,000 to 1 million.

It is a sobering assessment of the impact of the virus.

  • Dr Madhavan says the way in which Covid deaths are being recorded is partly responsible for, what he calls, the misleading numbers:

Especially as India is heading into winter, and the second wave we have all lived through here in Europe, hasn’t yet hit.

Experts in Global Health, like Professor Prabhat Jha from University of Toronto, thinks the disease is running riot in rural India - where health resources are scarce and there is practically no reporting of Covid deaths.

In cities like Patna in Bihar State, the cremations of Covid-19 victims on the banks of the River Ganges are a daily occurrence.

Ushi Devi lost her mother to virus after a short illness.

She rocks back and forth in anguish, still numbed by her loss.

Anju Singh is inconsolable as she is told of the death of her 75-year-old father. Credit: ITV News

It is a scene repeated across the subcontinent.

All too often it is the poor, who have no choice but to work and mix with others, who are falling victim to coronavirus.

Outside the city’s hospital, Anju Singh is inconsolable as she is told of the death of her 75-year-old father.

Before she and her mother can digest the news, his body is being handed over to make room for other patients. Soon they too will be at Gulbi Ghat, setting a pyre and offering prayers.