The Moving Curve: Episode 31

Hello and welcome to The Moving Curve. I’m Rukmini, a data journalist based in Chennai. Every night on this mini-cast, I consider one question around the novel coronavirus epidemic in India. Tonight I’m considering this question — could there be Covid-19 cases that we are missing, and while we’re looking for those, could there be people falling sick in other ways that we are missing?

The ICMR random sample survey of people with Severe Acute Respiratory Illness and Influenza-Like Illnesses found 1.8% of them tested positive for the novel coronavirus: http://www.ijmr.org.in/preprintarticle.asp?id=282179

The Times of India had a story last week that showed that hospital admissions of severe acute respiratory illness and influenza like illnesses cases under government’s health insurance scheme — the Ayushman Bharat — declined slightly in March and quite substantially so far in April: https://m.timesofindia.com/india/no-post-corona-jump-in-sari-influenza-tally/amp_articleshow/75227995.cms

In an article for Mint that I’ve linked to, I looked at data from the National Health Mission which includes the National Rural Health Mission and the National Urban Health Mission. Between Feb and March 2020, there was a big decline in the number of all such vital medical services across the board — 1 lakh fewer kids got BCG vaccines, the number of people getting cancer treatments fell to half, the number of women admitted with obstetric emergencies crashed: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/how-covid-19-response-disrupted-health-services-in-rural-india-11587713155817.html

We cannot wait until the novel coronavirus curve starts to flatten to get the rest of our health services, and the transport to reach them, up and running. We cannot have people falling sick from other illnesses while we try to protect people from covid. And we certainly cannot use hospitalisation data to assume that illness is declining. As for how we can estimate if there are more covid-19 cases out there from the data we currently have? Antibody tests, if we can get them right, is one way to go.

Thank you for listening. This episode was edited by Anand Krishnamoorthi. Tomorrow — a new question.

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I am a data journalist based in Chennai, India.

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