The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated 14.9 million direct or indirect deaths from COVID-19between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021. This is 9.5 million more than the deaths officially reported in that period.
To arrive at this figure, the United Nations agency has calculated the “excess mortality” in its 194 member countries, which is extracted from the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of a pandemic during those 24 months.
This includes those deceased by COVID-19 who were not diagnosedbut also those deaths due to the impact of the health crisiswho could not receive health care due to the saturation of health services, etc.
Half of the figure corresponds to low-middle income countries
The WHO spokesman, William Msemburi, has detailed that the majority of deaths, that is, 84%, are concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe and America. The 53% of the total figure belongs to lower-middle income countries and 28% to those of medium-high income.
The highest actual number of COVID-related deaths has been recorded in India (4.7 million), followed by Russia and Indonesia (over a million each) and USA (932,000). The Indian excess mortality is ten times more than the official figures and his government has already branded the calculation “questionable”. However, it must be taken into account that this ranking with absolute data is also marked by the size of these countries.
“We focus on excess deaths because we know that in many countries the data from the tests were insufficient. We also know that not all countries have a certification system (of deaths) that meets standard practice,” Msemburi said. Dozens of lower-middle-income countries failed to report causes of death generally.
However, this result was also influenced by deaths that were “avoided” with confinementwhich reduced the risk of traffic and work accidents, as explained by the experts at a press conference.
Estimates for a 24-month period (2020 and 2021) include a breakdown of excess mortality by age and sex. They confirm that the global number of deaths was higher for men than for womens (57% men, 43% women) and higher among older adults.
“The data points to the need to invest in health systems”
“These data not only point to the impact of the pandemic, but also to the need for all countries to invest in stronger health systems that are capable of maintain health services in times of crisisand have strong health information systems,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“The measurement of excess mortality is an essential component for understand the impact of the pandemic”assured the Deputy Director General for Data, Analysis and Delivery of the WHO, Dr. Samira Asma, about a fact that she recalls that “often remains hidden”.
The WHO hopes that this information will serve to “guide policies to reduce mortality and prevent future crises.” In any case, it considers it necessary to continue investigating to learn more about the causes of this excess deaths: when they went for undiagnosed COVID and how many for other ailments that could not be treated due to the health crisis.
The production of these estimates is the result of a global collaboration supported by the work of the COVID-19 Mortality Assessment Technical Advisory Group and country consultations.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.