Covid death toll: 89 deaths puts question mark on health dept’s functioning

Monday, 19 October 2020 | Gajendra Singh Negi | Dehradun

How deaths went unreported when a system of surveillance of Covid-19 patients is set in place?

Though the state health department is blaming the hospitals for delay in reporting of Covid-19 deaths- an allegation denied by hospitals- which forced it to revise the death toll on Saturday the fact remains that it is actually the department which itself is responsible for the whole fiasco. On Saturday the health department added 89 fatalities in its tally of deaths in the state which caused a sharp spike in death toll and mortality rate in the state. The delay in reporting of deaths shows a complete failure of the surveillance and contact tracing system of the state health department.

As per the system set in place, the hospitals should report the death of every admitted patient to the office of Chief Medical Officer (CMO) concerned and to the Covid control room. In some cases, the department conducts a death audit of the fatality to ascertain the cause of death. The team conducting the death audit consists of a physician, an epidemiologist and a member of surveillance team. It is learnt that in many cases the process of audit is delayed due to non-availability of one or more member. A senior officer of health department on condition of anonymity told The Pioneer that procedural and functional delay in death audit which is done by the district health department is one of the reasons for delay in reporting of deaths.

It is worth mentioning here that for health department has a team of experts headed by a surveillance officer for all the contagious disease. After the outbreak of Covid-19, emphasis on active surveillance of the disease was made and the surveillance teams were strengthened. Apart from surveillance, department was asked to focus on contact tracing of the positive patients and in this local intelligence units of police were also involved. The labs send a list of patients found positive for Covid-19 by them to the CMO concerned on daily basis. As per the system, these positive patients are to be contacted by the district health department which keep a constant vigil on health of patients whether hospitalized or in home isolation. The team of health department is also supposed to visit the household of the patient and determine the number of people who were in direct contact with him so that they can be tested for the disease. With such a system set in place it is surprising as to how as many as 89 deaths went unreported.

On Saturday the state health department revised the death toll and mentioned that 89 deaths which had occurred in past were added due to delayed reporting of deaths by hospitals.  In a letter directed to the hospitals, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Uttarakhand state Covid-19 control room, Dr Abhishek Tripathi said that some hospitals are late in providing details of deaths in their hospitals and he warned that action against these hospitals would be taken.

The founder of Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation, Anoop Nautiyal said, “The health department should have a transparent system and a proper inquiry should be conducted on delayed reporting of deaths by the hospitals.’’ 

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