India set a record-high in daily coronavirus deaths Tuesday with data reflecting over 3,700 fatalities as experts warn the true figures are likely as much as 10 times higher. The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said the country accounted for one in four deaths worldwide last week, and about 46% of new COVID-19 cases reported.
WHO recommends countries perform 10 to 30 tests per confirmed case, but India is conducting around five, likely leading to massive amounts of missed illnesses.
"There are still lots of people who are not getting tested," Dr. Prabhat Jha, of the University of Toronto, told the Associated Press. "Entire houses are infected. If one person gets tested in the house and reports they’re positive and everyone else in the house starts having systems, it’s obvious they have COVID, so why get tested?"
Jha also pointed to deaths occurring in the countryside, which often occur without prior documented medical attention and without any kind of documentation. Up to 70% of the country’s annual deaths occur in rural India each year.
Supplies for testing are also scant in the country, and the logistics of traveling to be tested and the time for a turnaround have proved problematic for many. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recently released new guidelines for testing aimed at reducing the number of PCR tests being sent to labs for processing, according to India Today. It suggests using rapid antigen tests to detect the virus instead.
"At present, the laboratories are facing challenges to meet the expected testing target due to extraordinary case load and staff getting infected with COVID-19," ICMR said, according to the outlet. "In view of this situation, it is imperative to optimize the RT-PCR testing and simultaneously increase the access and availability of testing to all citizens of the country."
Foreign aid began arriving last week, but it isn’t enough to control the surge that has crippled the country’s health care system and used available supplies. Desperate health officials have turned to social media to plead for more help.
One hospital director said he lost 12 patients and a head doctor when the hospital was forced to go without oxygen supply for over an hour.
"I am broken up," Sudhanshu Bankata, executive director of New Delhi’s Batra Hospital, said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "We are losing our own patients, our own doctors from something that is totally avoidable."