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Russian expert: 'Moscow #Coronavirus data is sound'




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“The coronavirus situation in Moscow is transparent, so accusing Russia of hiding statistics is absurd,” said Academic Secretary of the Department of Medical Sciences, Director of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Organization and Informatization of Public Health Vladimir Starodubov.  Speaking exclusively to EU Reporter, Starodubov’s reaction comes after the Financial Times reported that the number of deceased coronavirus patients in Russia might be 70% higher than official figures suggest, writes Louis Auge.

The Moscow Department of Health denied this information. According to Moscow's Civil Registry Office, 11,846 death certificates were issued in April 2020. It's 1841 more compared to April 2019 and 985 more compared to April 2018. Out of a total number of deaths in April 2020, 639 people died due to the novel coronavirus and its complications, most frequently pneumonia. WHO’s Special Representative in Russia, Melita Vujnovich, also stated that there are no evidences of a deliberate underestimation of mortality rate due to coronavirus in the country.

Starodubov explained that according to April's mortality statistics, cardiovascular diseases were the most common causes of death. “Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death, and it accounts for more than 50% of all deaths. The next is cancer. There is nothing new in the structure of mortality, ” said the expert. He added that 639 coronavirus-related fatalities in April are insignificant figures when compared to the total numbers of monthly deaths in Moscow.

Russia registers coronavirus related deaths in accordance with WHO regulations, Starodubov noted. “Russia works in accordance with WHO regulations, regarding the international guidelines on counting the number of fatalities. Russia complies with these guidelines, as does the rest of the world. What’s more, we have even stricter rules in our country – we perform autopsies in 100% of cases, when coronavirus is diagnosed or even just suspected. It means we accurately diagnose: histological, microbiological research is mandatory”, – he said.

The head of the Central Scientific Research Institute also added that international practice, as a rule of thumb, only takes into account the main disease that caused death. “According to the international disease classification, there could be only one cause of death. That could be the disease itself or its complications. And here, these [WHO] recommendations only cite about a dozen examples, when, which diagnosis and how they were made. In other words, if a coronavirus patient dies in a car crash, obviously, road accident is cited as his or her cause of death. The novel coronavirus is a contributing factor, but the main disease is the real cause of death”, – Starodubov explained.

The same situation occurs in the cases of patients with chronic diseases that caused death, when in parallel they were diagnosed with coronavirus. “We have been through it with tuberculosis and HIV. It is widely practiced all over the world, there is nothing invented” In the case of coronavirus it should be the same as with tuberculosis and HIV. If a patient died of cancer, then cancer is the cause. Coronavirus then goes as a concomitant diagnosis; it is listed in the diagnosis. But mortality rates take into account the main diagnosis, which is the first, said Starodubov.

The Head of the Central Scientific Research Institute noted that Russia saw a 7,5% decrease in mortality as compared with April 2019. “It’s not about the numbers but how you interpret them. A monthly cycle is not enough. Usually one needs to examine a year, possibly several years to come up with some tendencies. And comparing such a short period of time is not really accurate, because figures may vary,” Starodubov added.


According to Starodubov, we must also study how the overall situation with coronavirus has affected people with chronic illnesses. He also noted that in February and March, Moscow saw a decrease in the mortality rate but the news barely registered.

The Head of the Central Scientific Research Institute has called on journalists to observe the standards of professional ethics before publishing any unverified information. “Those are the fake news that come up all the time: claims that Moscow is hiding something, that there are 100 times more infected people or other statements of such kind… I urge [the journalists] to observe journalistic ethics. Medicine has its ethics, journalists should have some too,” Starodubov said.

Earlier in May, the Moscow health department rebutted claims of  “distorting” the coronavirus mortality rates in the capital. It noted that Moscow that published the April data on its own initiative, before the federal structures have done so themselves. They noted that Moscow conducted autopsies in 100% of deaths where there were any suspicions of COVID-19 infection. That’s why the postmortem diagnoses carried out in Moscow are precise, and the mortality data is transparent, they argued.

The Russian State Duma deputies have urged the foreign ministry to take measures against the media outlets that published inaccurate data – up to stripping journalists of their Russian accreditation. According to the spokesperson Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry will be sending letters to the Financial Times and The New York Times demanding a rebuttal. She also said that a relevant messages has been addressed to the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir and UNESCO Secretary General Audrey Azoulay.


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