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Covid-19, Co-morbidity and the Undisclosed Data

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Anant Chetan
Anant Chetan
An aficionado blogger and an engineer by profession. By qualifications, a Masters in Embedded System Design.

Half of the year passed by in the shadow of Covid-19. The way things are going, I think a lot more months in the near future are going to get disappeared in this. Unless people start asking questions.

You must have already seen numbers like the ones shown in the figure. There might be some more details like the population or the age distribution or deaths per million so on and so forth. But does this information mean anything?

The one question that has been troubling me for some time now is “Did these twenty two thousand people die because of Coronavirus or did twenty two thousand dying people tested positive for Coronavirus?

I am not playing with words. I haven’t been able to get my eyes on any reliable reports and figures that provide me with an answer to this question.

Covid-19 is caused by SARS-COV-2, a virus that belongs to the Coronavirus family, similar to SARS and MERS and causes respiratory illness from mild cold to fatal pneumonia.

Lets go back to the times before Covid-19. There used to be a number of other respiratory illnesses that ended up killing people. For this article lets take Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It has been killing lakhs of Indians every year and the number keeps on increasing. In 2005 it was responsible for 5 lakh deaths and in 2017 the number increased to 9.6 lakh i.e. around 2630 people dying every single day.

This also means that there would have been almost a million people dying this year due to COPD even if there was no Coronavirus outbreak. And mind it, a million is a conservative number, since the factors responsible for the increase in COPD cases like Tobacco Smoking and Air Pollution are increasing unabated.

Now, coming back to the question, how covid-19 deaths relate to these other fatal respiratory illnesses?

There can only be one of the three cases. I try to show with the help of a Venn Diagram. The gray circle represents the number of deaths from conditions like COPD and the black circle denotes the Covid-19 related deaths. The gray circle is big because the number of COPD deaths alone is several times the number of Covid-19 deaths.

  • (a) means that these twenty two thousand covid-19 deaths are mutually exclusive to COPD Deaths i.e. the two are independent of each other and none of the Covid-19 patients suffered from COPD.
  • (b) means that some of the twenty two thousand dead people who tested positive for Coronavirus were already suffering from COPD.
  • (c) means that all of the twenty two thousand dead people who tested positive for Coronavirus were already suffering from COPD.

Can you pick one out of the three? No, you can’t. Why? The relevant information regarding this is not made available to the general public. It is not that the concerned authorities don’t have the numbers to publish a report, it is just that the people who were supposed to ask these questions are not interested. If you find any such reports please do mention in the comment section. I would be eager to read such a report.

Back in the month of Feb/March, I wrote The unwarranted fear of Coronavirus! to give a perspective to the number of deaths in comparison to the number of flu deaths in different countries every year. I intentionally did not speak about this correlation because I was hoping or rather was quite certain that Mainstream Media and Journalists would do this and present us with the latest data for the year 2020. Unfortunately, even after seven months, when every hour we see some news segment on Coronavirus, there isn’t a talk on any such correlation. “Amitabh Bacchan had a sound sleep the night before, after waking up in the morning he went to the loo, his potty process was as usual“. That’s an interesting research, brilliant piece of journalism! Kudos!!

You could pick any other respiratory illness like Asthma but I chose COPD for some reasons. First, it is one of the diseases that people don’t talk about but the disease still kills a million people every year in India, it is incurable and progressive i.e. worsens with the time. In a study by IndiaSpend a total of 55.3 million people suffered from COPD in the year 2016. India has 18% of the world population but 32% of the total COPD cases. Second, it is in stages, not sudden like asthma attacks. There are four stages with approximate life expectancy. So it should be easy to track as to how many people were in the critical stage and died during this Corona outbreak. Third and last, the root cause for this disease might explain why some states are struggling more than others.

In west the major cause of COPD is tobacco smoking but in developing countries like India it is air pollution. India is among the top four countries for highest number of deaths by smoking. I am not going to talk about how smoking increases the risk of Coronavirus or increases the severity of any other respiratory disease or weakens the immunity etc. I am also not going to waste my as well as your time in talking about how smoking is injurious to health in general or how smoking kills. A majority of smokers already know that. To be precise, 68.2% of the smokers in India already know the harmful effects of smoking on their health. But still continue doing so. I was actually quite surprised to see the magnitude of tobacco industry; it contributes a whooping Rs. 11,79,498 Crore to the Indian Economy and generates employment for 45 million i.e 4.5 crore people in the form of farmers, farm labors, Factory workers, leaf puckers and traders.

Yes, I know Covid-19 is different from COPD and is highly contagious. But so is flu. If you test an HIV positive dying person for Influenza virus and the result comes out positive. Would you infer that flu virus killed the person? I don’t think so.

You must have heard of co-morbidity while talking about covid-19 deaths. That’s exactly the correlation I am talking about. The only thing I am doing here is asking for numbers. Why isn’t the media showing these numbers? If they have to show the numbers to scare people, they very well could just start counting the the total number of deaths that happen every year in India. Can you take a guess as to how many people die in India every year? 7.3 deaths per 1000 people i.e. 9 million or 90 Lakhs a year. Out of that 1 million i.e. 10 Lakh die because of smoking and an even scarier part is that 15% of the people who died of smoking never touched a cigarette i.e. passive smoking. I guess they were too polite to push the smokers away from them.

Now, you could imagine why people in Delhi are dying more. For some years now, Delhi has been a front runner in the race to win “the most polluted city in the world” trophy. And since Delhi is a high income state in India as compared to other states, smoking is also a bigger factor in Delhi as compared to other states. More and more people are dying and they will continue to die, corona or no corona. Its just that we never bothered to pay attention to these deaths. Delhi has a grim future ahead. Freebies are only good for winning elections, nothing more than that. We will see what happens to Delhi in four more years and hopefully learn from it.

Must Read: Reasons why Delhi is failing the coronavirus exam.

The political opposition in India is in a different world altogether. Their eyes have rigid caste/religion filters. They can only see castes and religions; upper castes vs lower castes, forward castes vs backward caste or extremely backward castes, Brahmins vs Dalits, Hindus vs Muslims, us vs them and that’s it. They don’t know what to ask. In fact by starting a counter for the number of deaths in the name of Coronavirus, Rahul Gandhi and his party have scored a massive self goal. If the general elections were to happen today, congress would set a new low record. I will be writing a separate article on this as to why. Please follow my blog to receive a notification for the upcoming article.

If you like the content of this article please do share as much as possible. Since, neither the media nor the political parties are going to change in a day, it is the people who need to start asking questions and highlight these concerns in whichever way possible be it via social media or something else.

Thank you for reading!!!

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Anant Chetan
Anant Chetan
An aficionado blogger and an engineer by profession. By qualifications, a Masters in Embedded System Design.
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