The NGO has produced as proof the mortuary cards issued to the two patients, which confirm they succumbed to COVID-19. However, they don’t figure in medical bulletins.

COVID-19 deceased body being removed from an ambulance by health workers in blur hazmat suitsImage for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, June 10, 2020 - 11:16

Chennai-based NGO Arappor Iyakkam has raised questions over the Tamil Nadu government’s alleged under-reporting of deaths due to COVID-19. The anti-corruption organisation has procured the mortuary cards (receipts issued by the hospital mortuary with patient details) of two patients who died ‘unreported’ at the Government Stanley Medical College and Hospital in Chennai, to lend evidence to their claim. It also recently came to light, following an inspection done by Department of Public Health with Greater Chennai Corporation's Health Department records, that at least 236 COVID-19 deaths were missing from the state record.

The first patient is a 50-year-old man from a neighbouring district who was admitted to Stanley Hospital on May 26. He died on May 28 at 12.30 am. Under the section ‘causes of death’, the first reason listed is that the patient was COVID-19 positive, followed by acute encephalopathy, respiratory failure, type 2 diabetes mellitus and unconscious hyperglycemia. The mortuary card has been signed by the doctor who was attending to the patient, the Resident Medical Officer and the mortuary attender.

Similarly, a 69-year-old male, who was admitted to the hospital on May 26 and died on May 31, has found no mention in the list of deaths so far. The mortuary card states that he was COVID-19 positive. Causes of death include acute pulmonary edema, cardiogenic shock and coronary artery disease. The card has been signed by authorities at the hospital.

Both deaths, however, have so far not featured in the medical bulletins published everyday by the Health and Family Welfare Department.

A third case that the NGO has highlighted is that of an 87-year-old patient who was admitted to the Raja Muthiah Medical College Hospital in Cuddalore. He was listed as patient number 20504 on May 29 but his death on June 4 remains unreported as of Tuesday, June 9.

In a letter addressed to Tamil Nadu Health Secretary Beela Rajesh, Jayaram Venkatesan, the convenor of Arappor Iyyakkam states, “The above three case studies prima facie raises serious doubts on the death cases being (under) reported by the State Government. Reporting deaths transparently is the need of the hour and this is what will build the trust amongst people about the truthfulness of the data being presented and efforts being taken. Hiding of any death cases will only lead to more fear amongst people.”

Calling for an immediate probe into the alleged misreporting, Jayaram wrote, “Therefore, the above case studies mandates a thorough enquiry into the reasons on why these deaths have gone unreported and actions be taken on officials responsible for this immediately. I also urge you to take all possible steps to report the death of all Corona positive patients transparently.”

The state government has repeatedly claimed that mortality rates in Tamil Nadu are lower than even some developed nations. Currently, Tamil Nadu has reported 307 deaths as of June 9 among 34,914 reported cases.

Responding to the allegations, Health Secretary Beela Rajesh told TNM, “We have been giving figures of those who come to government hospitals and those reported by private hospitals. Reconciliation is being done for others, like home deaths or unreported by other institutions. Time after the positive date has to be seen too as exit tests are not there.”

The bureaucrat said she would enquire and respond to the specific allegations put forth by the anti-corruption NGO.