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Raising major concerns over the "gross under-testing" and "misreporting of data" on the cause of death of COVID-19 patients, a group of non-resident medical professionals have written an open letter to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
The healthcare professionals identified themselves as Bengali physicians, health scientists, and healthcare providers with roots in the state, and claimed that they are concerned about inadequate testing across India, and said that they find the situation in West Bengal "most disturbing".
"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," NDTV quoted the letter as saying.
The doctors cited a report published on Reuters and claimed that despite having the capacity to conduct around 1,000 tests a day, West Bengal has only conducted 33.7 tests per million as against the national average of around 156.9 per million.
"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 professionals further said that there is evidence over "gross underestimation" of COVID-19 deaths in the state. They claimed that they were born, brought up and educated in West Bengal and currently have families who live in the state.
"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," the letter said.
The letter cited cited reports by physician groups treating COVID-19 patients in Kolkata's government hospitals and said that "only a state-appointed committee is allowed to declare if a patient has died from COVID-19".
"Even when coronavirus patients were dying with symptoms of respiratory failure, the committee was not citing COVID-19 as the cause of death," the letter said.
"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.
Mamata Banerjee has blamed the Indian Council for Medical Research for low testing numbers in West Bengal. She claimed that while the state was initially not given testing kits, the ones they were given later were faulty. He said that these have now been withdrawn.
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