KOLKATA: A group of non-resident Bengali physicians, health scientists, and healthcare providers have written to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee raising concerns over the "gross under-testing" and "misreporting of data" on the cause of death of COVID-19 patients.
In an open letter on Wednesday, the medical professionals said that while they have concerns about inadequate testing across India, they find the situation in West Bengal particularly grave.
"In the last week and a half, we have come across or watched with growing concerns, reports on the COVID-19 situation in West Bengal. There are two specific issues that are most disturbing to us: 1) the gross under-testing in West Bengal, and 2) the misreporting of data on the cause of death in COVID-19 patients," the letter said.
The healthcare professionals said that they were born, raised, and educated in West Bengal and have families who currently reside in the state.
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"The number of truly affected cases depends on the extent of testing, the accuracy of the test results and, in particular, the frequency and scale of testing of asymptomatic cases who may have been exposed," the letter said.
"The gross underestimation in the number of truly affected cases may have potentially dangerous consequences, specifically in 1) not being prepared with adequate healthcare capacity to handle the pandemic burden in the state, and 2) failing to arrest the spread of the infection by asymptomatic cases who may be spreading unknowingly," it added.
Citing a media report, the doctors said that West Bengal has conducted just 33.7 tests per million, compared to a national average of around 156.9 per million, despite having the capacity to conduct around 1,000 tests a day.
They said that there is evidence that mortality data in COVID-19 patients emerging from West Bengal are misreported or not fully reported adding that it has been reported that deaths due to COVID-19 are being misclassified on death certificates as deaths due to a comorbid condition or organ failure, etc.
The current mortality data in COVID-19 patients from West Bengal is unreliable, the letter said.
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"Not reporting the underlying COVID-19 as the cause of death is a falsification of data. In the face of a pandemic, World Health Organization (WHO) and Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines instruct hospital staff, medical examiners, and other health officials to report the primary and underlying causes of death in the death certificate," it said.
"As professionals in the field, we strongly urge the Chief Minister and the Ministry of Health of West Bengal to 1) increase testing in the state by all means, and 2) take responsibility for accurate and consistent reporting of COVID-19 data. We urge the leaders of our beloved state to lead with science and humanity," it added.