Infectious Disease

COVID-19 associated with nearly 15 million excess deaths, WHO finds

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Tedros reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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Nearly 15 million people died as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19 during the first 24 months of the pandemic, according to a new estimate published Thursday by WHO.

The estimate includes both deaths caused by COVID-19 and deaths associated with the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society. Experts generated the estimate using a model that relied on information from countries with adequate data, which was then used to make estimates for countries without adequate data, WHO said.

IDN0522COVID_deaths_Graphic_01_WEB

WHO.

The estimate — 14.9 million deaths — is far higher than mortality figures published elsewhere, which place the global death toll from COVID-19 at around 6.2 million.

“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 Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said in a press release announcing the findings.

According to the newly published data, 84% of excess deaths associated with the pandemic between Jan 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, occurred in just three regions — Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas — with 68% being concentrated in just 10 countries.

The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker shows just below 1 million total deaths in the United States alone (996,713).

According to the new estimates, middle-income countries accounted for 81% of excess deaths over the 24-month period, and high- and low-income countries accounted for 15% and 4%, respectively. The experts also found that the global death toll was higher for men, who accounted for 57% of the excess deaths, and higher among older adults.

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

References:

Johns Hopkins. Coronavirus Resource Center. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. Accessed on May 5, 2022.

WHO. Global excess deaths associated with COVID-19, January 2020-December 2021. https://www.who.int/data/stories/global-excess-deaths-associated-with-covid-19-january-2020-december-2021 . Accessed May 5, 2022.

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Carlos del Rio, MD)

Carlos del Rio, MD

Although the reported number of deaths from COVID-19 globally is around 6 million, today the WHO stated that the true number of deaths is closer to 15 million. This number is not surprising and is consistent with the estimates previously released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and published in The Lancet.

This number is based on the concept of “excess mortality,” which is the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of a pandemic based on data from prior years. The impact is not evenly distributed; for example, close to one-third of excess deaths globally occurred in India.

References:

Wang H, et al. lancet 2022;doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02796-3.

Carlos del Rio, MD

Infectious Disease News Editorial Board Member

Executive associate dean

Emory University School of Medicine

Disclosures: Del Rio reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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