India has reached the grave target of 400,000 coronavirus deaths, half of them during a second wave in recent months that overwhelmed the healthcare system and crematoria.
India has recorded 30.45 million cases since the outbreak of the pandemic last year and is the second most affected country behind the United States, which has 33 million cases.
The United States has at least 604,000 dead and some 518,000 people have died in Brazil.
India, the second most populous nation in the world, recorded 853 deaths in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday. That topped 400,000, and the last 100,000 were added in just 39 days, according to a Reuters news agency account.
But health experts believe India may have significantly accounted for the deaths and the actual number could have reached one million or even more.
A large number of bodies were washed along the Ganges River in northern India in May, as people struggled to keep pace with the deaths and cremations at the top of the second wave.
“The subnumber of deaths is something that has happened in all states, mainly due to system lags, so we will never have a real idea of how many people we have lost in this second wave,” Rijo M John said. professor at Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi.
Last month, Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, reviewed the total number of deaths from COVID-19 to 5,424, out of 9,429, following a local court order.
India recorded a total of 200,000 deaths at the end of April, but it took only 28 days to reach 300,000 deaths.
Hospitals ran out of beds and oxygen to save lives during the second wave of April and May and people died in parking lots outside hospitals and at home.
Cases have steadily declined since it peaked in May, but government officials and experts have warned that a third wave is emerging, as the country slowly reopens and a new variant, locally called Delta Plus, takes the lead.
The “black fungus” steals the view
Saheb Rao Shinde’s family thought the worst was over when the 65-year-old recovered from COVID-19 last month at his home in western India. But a few weeks later, the seller of revenue stamps lost his sight in one eye.
During the catastrophic second wave of COVID-19, thousands of people who contracted the virus also suffered from a rare fungal disease called mucormycosis, or “black fungus”.
India has so far reported more than 40,845 cases of mucormycosis.
Many like Shinde will never be able to regain their sight after the fungal disease that causes blackening or discoloration of the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing up blood.
“The father was fit and healthy, now he doesn’t feel like eating …” said his daughter, who did not want to be named. “They’ve pulled his teeth out too. It’s very sad.”
Shinde, from the arid region of western India of Marathwada in the state of Maharashtra, will resume work after she recovers from it, her daughter told Reuters in Bombay.
Adesh Kumar, a 39-year-old farmer in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, lost his sight in his left eye. He had to borrow money to pay for medicines, secured against some of his lands.
India ordered stricter surveillance of mucormycosis in May as it exacerbated the challenge for patients with COVID-19, especially those taking steroids and with diabetes.
Experts say that excessive use of certain drugs that suppress the immune system could cause an increase in fungal infection.
“We are seeing many cases of mucormycosis after COVID infections as COVID itself is known to decrease immunity,” said Charuta Mandke, of the ophthalmology department at Dr RN Cooper Municipal General Hospital in Bombay.