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Experts suggest verbal autopsy

Health authorities recorded 1,813 new confirmed cases and 71 deaths overnight, raising the total death count to 1,008
A verbal autopsy is a public health tool in which health officials speak with the deceased person’s household members or medical staff who had treated the patient to extract information about the possible cause of death.

G.S. Mudur   |   New Delhi   |   Published 29.04.20, 09:03 PM

India’s Covid-19 deaths crossed 1,000 and its count of confirmed patients reached 31,787 on Wednesday with three states — Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi — accounting for more than half of all those under treatment in hospital.

Health authorities recorded 1,813 new confirmed cases and 71 deaths overnight, raising the total death count to 1,008.

Nearly 7,800 patients have been discharged after recovery.

Among the 22,982 Covid-19 patients in hospital, Maharashtra accounts for 7,530 (32.7 per cent), Gujarat 3,129 (13.6 per cent) and Delhi 2,182 patients (9.4 per cent). Madhya Pradesh has 1,890 patients and Uttar Pradesh 1,557.

Amid the rising death count, some public health experts believe health authorities need to use “verbal autopsies” to determine whether any non-Covid patients dying from other causes, if at home or in hospital, might have had Covid-19 symptoms just before death.

The suggestion has come amid concerns that some patients who die from other chronic underlying health disorders could have picked up the coronavirus infection, causing their health to deteriorate.

A verbal autopsy is a public health tool in which health officials speak with the deceased person’s household members or medical staff who had treated the patient to extract information about the possible cause of death.

In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the verbal autopsy would focus on whether the patient displayed any symptoms of Covid-19 —fever, cough or shortness of breath — in the days prior to death.

“Verbal autopsies for non-hospital deaths or even deaths in non-Covid hospitals could be useful in two ways,” said Oommen John, a public health specialist at The George Institute for Global Health, New Delhi. “They would provide information about undiagnosed Covid patients and they would help identify people who need to be quarantined at home.”

In Nigeria, health officials plan to use verbal autopsy as a tool to investigate deaths in Kano state, Tijiani Hussaini, coordinator of the technical response team for Covid-19 in Kano, told a Nigerian TV channel two days ago.

The Registrar General of India, the agency involved in census operations, has already used verbal autopsies for more than a decade to estimate mortality from various causes under a project led by Dr Prabhat Jha, a public health researcher at the Centre for Global Health Research in Canada.

The RGI could do a special Covid survey of deaths over the last six months of 2019 and the first few months of 2020, Jha told The Telegraph.

'They could use an updated verbal autopsy tool to pick up possible Covid respiratory deaths.' 

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