Background: Hospital-based studies have suggested that fire-related deaths might be a neglected public-health issue in India. However, no national estimates of these deaths exist and the only numbers reported in published literature come from the Indian police. We combined multiple health datasets to assess the extent of the problem.
Methods: We computed age-sex-specific fire-related mortality fractions nationally using a death registration system based on medically certified causes of death in urban areas and a verbal autopsy based sample survey for rural populations. We combined these data with all-cause mortality estimates based on the sample registration system and the population census. We adjusted for ill-defined injury categories that might contain misclassified fire-related deaths, and estimated the proportion of suicides due to self-immolation when deaths were reported by external causes.
Findings: We estimated over 163 000 fire-related deaths in 2001 in India, which is about 2% of all deaths. This number was six times that reported by police. About 106 000 of these deaths occurred in women, mostly between 15 and 34 years of age. This age-sex pattern was consistent across multiple local studies, and the average ratio of fire-related deaths of young women to young men was 3:1.
Interpretation: The high frequency of fire-related deaths in young women suggests that these deaths share common causes, including kitchen accidents, self-immolation, and different forms of domestic violence. Identification of populations at risk and description of structural determinants from existing data sources are urgently needed so that interventions can be rapidly implemented.