New Evidence on Pandemic Excess Mortality in India

Understanding the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is a global scientific and policy challenge. This seminar reports results from two large-scale surveys in India: the National Family Health Survey – 5 (using interviews conducted in early 2021) and a phone survey in Rural Bihar conducted in early 2022. Both surveys estimate reliable rates of pre-pandemic mortality. We find that official COVID-19 death surveillance grossly underestimates the scale of excess mortality. The surveys also find periods of elevated mortality, particularly in rural areas, that have been missed in narratives of how the pandemic unfolded in India. To the extent that the data allow us to examine inequalities in excess deaths, we find substantial disparities. The analysis presented here underscores the possibility of measuring mortality well even in some of the poorest regions of the world, and the many payoffs of doing so.