Interview: Why Kerala thinks COVID death compensation is a huge burden

The process to set district level committees who will ascertain COVID-19 deaths based on guidelines stipulated by Centre has been initiated, said Veena George, Kerala health minister to The Federal

Kerala health minister also told The Federal that family members of people who died of COVID-19 can correct the death certificate if required

On October 11, Kerala will kick-start the highly-anticipated process of providing compensation to the next of kin of the people who had succumbed to COVID. This process will take off in the state even as the guidelines to determine what is deemed as a COVID death have been revised and also family members will now get an opportunity to correct the death certificate if required.

The compensation to the dependant or the next of kin of the deceased will be a lump sum amount of ₹50,000 which will be dispersed from the state’s Disaster Relief Fund.

In an exclusive interview with The Federal, Kerala Health Minister Veena George said that the government has initiated the process of forming district-level committees, who will ascertain the COVID deaths according to the guidelines stipulated by the Centre.

“The government is committed to dispersing the compensation to anyone who is deserving of it,” she said, adding that the state, however, needed support from the Centre considering the “huge financial burden this will have on the states”.

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The district-level CDACs (COVID-19 Death Ascertaining Committee) will consist of an additional district magistrate, district medical officer and additional district medical officer. The district-level surveillance officer for COVID-19 and a subject expert would also be part of the committee.

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According to a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), 95 per cent deaths occur within 25 days of being tested COVID positive. As per the order issued by the Kerala government on September 29, 2021, based on the guidelines formulated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the death within 30 days of being tested positive will be counted as death caused by COVID-19.

A person, who is admitted to an in-patient facility on testing positive and continues in such a facility for more than thirty days and succumbs to COVID, will also be counted as a COVID death.

On the basis of this new guideline, the fatality rate is expected to considerably shoot up in all the states. As of October 1, 2021, the official death toll of Kerala due to COVID is 25,182. According to the state’s directorate of health services, it will be too early to predict how big the difference in the number of deaths will turn out to be in the wake of the revised guideline.

However, deaths occurring due to poisoning, suicide, homicide, deaths due to accident etc., will not be considered as COVID-19 deaths even if COVID-19 is an accompanying condition, said the order.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has directed the Centre ‘to issue simplified guidelines for the issuance of official document relating to COVID-19 deaths to the family members of the deceased who died due to COVID-19’.

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The order by the Supreme Court dated June 30, 2021 in Reepak Kansal V. Union of India, the court has also directed that ‘such guidelines may also provide the remedy to the family members of the deceased who died due to COVID-19 for correction of the medical certificate of cause of death/official document issued by the appropriate authority’.

“We comply with all these orders and guidelines and we have provisions for correcting the death certificate if required,” pointed out the state health minister Veena George to The Federal.

Moreover, COVID-19 cases which are not resolved, in which patients have died either in hospital settings or at home, and where a Medical Certificate of Cause of Death (MCCD) in Form 4 & 4 A has been issued to the registering authority, as required under Section 10 of the Registration of Birth and Death (RBD) Act, 1969, will be treated as a COVID-19 death.

The district level committees will verify the claims and dispose of the complaints and grievances within 30 days, said the government order. The legal heir of the deceased who has already received the death declaration document, if required, may submit a petition to get the document for COVID-19 death in the new format prescribed by the central MoHFW through the online system.

They may specifically mention in the request letter the death registration number received from the Registrar of Birth and Death (Secretary Panchayath, Municipality, Corporation) on the registration of the death in the local body. Further, the health minister has also revealed that the system of online registration shall be operational from October 11.

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