Number of Covid-19 deaths far higher than what the government claims, officials sayHealth Ministry’s data does not include all known deaths as well as of those who were suspected to have died of the coronavirus but were not tested.
As of Tuesday, the number of deaths from Covid-19 in the country stands at 1,247. So far, 211,475 have been infected. The fatality rate, therefore, works out to be 0.59 percent.
But according to multiple sources at the Ministry of Health and Population and the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre, the number of deaths from coronavirus infection is far more than what the government claims.
A highly placed source at the Health Ministry said that the team formed to investigate variation in data on the deaths between that of the Health Ministry and Nepal Army found problems in data compilation by the ministry.
A three-member probe team comprising a director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division, a joint-secretary at the Health Ministry and a senior official from Nepal Army was formed some two weeks ago to investigate the discrepancy.
“The probe team which thoroughly reviewed the data found no error in the Army’s numbers but in the Health Ministry’s collection,” an official at the Health ministry told the Post, asking not to be named. “The number of people who died from the virus are far more than what we are claiming.”
In March the government had given the responsibility of managing the bodies of those who died of Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 to the Army.
“The Army has detailed records of each body it has disposed of. Therefore, there’s no chance of a mistake on its part,” said an official at the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre.
Nepal Army’s data shows that over 1,800 people have died of the infection.
There are a number of reasons why the Health Ministry undercounts deaths, according to a source at the Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee, the body formed under Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel to respond to the virus threat.
The Health Ministry has been counting only those who died until 2 pm every day. Those who died after 2 pm are not counted and the data provided in the next day’s briefing by the Health Ministry spokesperson only includes those declared dead that particular day, the source told the Post.
On the other hand, the Army counts all the bodies of those who have died of Covid-19 or suspected Covid-19 it has managed for their funerals.
“The reporting system of the Health Ministry was also found to be problematic,” the official told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Also, after the country adopted the federal system with three tiers of governments at the federal, provincial and local levels, the reporting system of the Health Ministry has been disrupted.
Local and provincial governments are not obliged to report to the federal government, according to the Health Ministry.
“Just as in the case of counting the Covid-19 confirmed dead, the Health Ministry may have missed the number of positive cases and needs to be reviewed like the number of deceased,” said the official.
Further, according to the Health Ministry, the definition of death from the coronavirus is different between the ministry and the Army.
“The Ministry demands coronavirus positive reports with death certificates to include in its list,” said Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry. “The Army managed the bodies of those who died in home isolation also and those with Covid-19 like symptoms but the Health Ministry doesn't count such cases.”
However, sources say Nepal Army takes responsibility for disposing of the bodies of only those people who tested positive for coronavirus.
Nepal Army says that hospitals first inform the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre, which then informs the respective division of Nepal Army and it then mobilises teams prepared for cremation of bodies of coronavirus victims.
Adhikari concedes that the number of deceased from the coronavirus could be far more than declared by the ministry.
“We have requested provincial governments’ agencies to send their authentic data on the number of deceased within five days,” Adhikari told the Post. “We will update the data of the deceased if problems are found after verifying with the provincial governments’ data. If not, we will not update.”
When asked if the government is concealing data of the infected people and the deceased, Adhikari claimed that there is no reason to do so.
The three-member probe team has already furnished its report to the Health Ministry and to the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre.
In the last 24 hours, 17 people died of Covid-19 and 502 others were found to be infected. A total of 3,112 polymerase chain reaction tests were carried out in the last 24 hours.
The number of tests has been gradually decreasing since October 5 when the government decided to charge for the tests except for the poor, elderly people, disabled, health workers deployed to the front line, security personnel and cleaning staff. The highest number of positive cases—5,743—was reported on October 21 when 20,118 tests were conducted.
Last Monday the Cabinet decided to reverse its October 5 decision after widespread condemnation.
Public health experts said that huge discrepancies in the data of the deceased between the Health Ministry and the Army show the level of coordination among different government agencies in the fight against the coronavirus.
“The Health Ministry should use the Army's data, as their reporting system is excellent,” Dr Baburam Marasini, former director of the Epidemiology and Disease control division, told the Post.
“Even minor things make a huge difference in the fight against the pandemic, and we are ignoring the real data. This all shows how serious we are in the fight against the pandemic.”