WHO: Covid deaths far exceeds totals reported by countries
Nearly 15 million more people died during the first two years of the pandemic than would have been expected during normal times.
In a news release issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, the organization reports that the full death toll directly or indirectly linked to the Covid-19 pandemic (described as “excess mortality”) between 2020 and 2021 was approximately 14.9 million.
Excess mortality is calculated as the number of deaths that have occurred minus the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from previous years.
A WHO global panel of experts calculated the estimates of a number of countries and published them on its website on Thursday, showing how drastically death counts reported by several governments were understating the real toll of the pandemic.
The excess mortality during the first two years of the pandemic was two times as high as the government’s official tally of Covid deaths in Mexico, 12 times as high as the official Covid toll in Egypt, and 8 times as high in Pakistan.
The experts estimated that roughly 14.9 million more people around the world died between 2020 and 2021 than they would have in usual times. Most were Covid-19 victims, but some died because it was difficult for them to receive medical care for sicknesses such as those related to the heart. The previous toll was 6 million; it was based only on death counts that the governments reported.
Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, who was also a member of the expert panel, said, "It’s absolutely staggering what has happened with this pandemic, including our inability to accurately monitor it,” adding that “It shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.”
The WHO estimated that nearly a third of the excess deaths have taken place in India, where deaths were underreported, just like in several other countries, due to failure to count Covid deaths properly or because the primary cause of death wouldn't be registered as Covid.
In other countries, WHO experts used the limited data available to reach estimates greatly varying from previous counts. In Indonesia, for example, the experts based their calculations on monthly death data from the capital, Jakarta, to estimate that the country had experienced over a million more deaths than usual during the pandemic. The number would be 7 times as high as the reported death toll.
However, Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the government’s Covid-19 vaccination program's spokeswoman, admitted this week that the country had seen more deaths than it had reported. According to her, the problem was partly due to people not reporting their relatives' deaths in order to avoid applying the government's strict rules related to Covid-19 victims’ funerals.
Another example is Peru where the experts estimated 290,000 excess deaths by the end of 2021, just 1.4 times as high as the reported Covid-19 death toll. However, the WHO estimated 437 excess deaths for every 100,000 Peruvians who left the country, making the results among the world’s highest per capita tolls.
A public health specialist in Peru said, “When a health care system isn’t prepared to receive patients who are seriously ill with pneumonia, when it can’t provide the oxygen they need to live, or even provide beds for them to lay in so they can have some peace, you get what you’ve gotten."
In the United States, the WHO estimated roughly 930,000 more people than expected to have died by 2021, in comparison with 820,000 Covid-19 deaths that had been officially recorded over the same period.