Covid: WHO claims true global death toll from pandemic is nearly 15 million

Most of the excess deaths are concentrated in southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the WHO says

Emily Atkinson
Thursday 05 May 2022 18:26 BST
<p>The National Covid Memorial Wall in London remembers victims of the pandemic </p>

The National Covid Memorial Wall in London remembers victims of the pandemic

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Almost 15 million people have died as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic around the world, new figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) reveal.

Estimates from the WHO show that the number of excess deaths associated directly or indirectly with the pandemic between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021 was approximately 14.9 million – 13 per cent more deaths than normally expected over a two-year period.

Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic, based on data from earlier years.

WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems.

“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

The agency believes that many countries undercounted the number of people who died from Covid, since only 5.4 million have been reported overall.

Most of the excess deaths (84 per cent) are concentrated in southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas, the WHO said, while some 68 per cent of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally.

It also found that middle-income countries account for 81 per cent of the 14.9 million excess deaths (53 per cent in lower-middle-income countries and 28 per cent in upper-middle-income countries) over the 24-month period, with high-income and low-income countries each accounting for 15 per cent and 4 per cent, respectively.

The global death toll was also revealed to be higher among men (57 per cent) than women (43 per cent), and higher among older adults.

“Measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understand the impact of the pandemic,” said Dr Samira Asma, assistant director general for data, analytics and delivery at WHO.

“Shifts in mortality trends provide decision-makers information to guide policies to reduce mortality and effectively prevent future crises.

“Because of limited investments in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden.

“These new estimates use the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach.”

Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, assistant director general for emergency response, added: “Data is the foundation of our work every day to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable.

“We know where the data gaps are, and we must collectively intensify our support to countries, so that every country has the capability to track outbreaks in real time, ensure delivery of essential health services, and safeguard population health.”

The estimates were born out of a global collaboration supported by the work of the Technical Advisory Group for Covid-19 Mortality Assessment and country consultations. This group consisted of many of the world’s leading experts, who developed an innovative methodology to generate comparable mortality estimates even where data is incomplete or unavailable.

“The United Nations system is working together to deliver an authoritative assessment of the global toll of lives lost from the pandemic. This work is an important part of UN DESA’s ongoing collaboration with WHO and other partners to improve global mortality estimates,” said Mr Liu Zhenmin, UN undersecretary general for economic and social affairs.

Mr Stefan Schweinfest, director of the statistics Division of UN DESA, added: “Data deficiencies make it difficult to assess the true scope of a crisis, with serious consequences for people’s lives.

“The pandemic has been a stark reminder of the need for better coordination of data systems within countries and for increased international support for building better systems, including for the registration of deaths and other vital events.”

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