The World Health Organization said on Thursday that over 15 million more people died during the epidemic than would have perished in normal circumstances, a stunning estimate of Covid’s real toll that revealed how widely countries had undercounted casualties.
According to the World Health Organization, the excess death toll in Mexico during the first two years of the epidemic was twice as large as the government’s official figure of Covid fatalities.
Those figures, which were determined by a worldwide panel of experts formed by the World Health Organization, reflect what many scientists believe to be the most trustworthy assessment of the pandemic’s overall effect. Faced with significant gaps in worldwide death statistics, the expert team set out to compute excess mortality, which is the difference between the number of people who died in 2020 and 2021 and the number of people who would have died during that time period if the pandemic had not occurred.
There were many factors used in their estimates, including national statistics on reported fatalities, fresh information from municipalities and household surveys, and statistical models designed to account for deaths that were not recorded.
According to the specialists, the majority of the extra fatalities were caused by Covid itself, although others died as a result of the pandemic making it more difficult to get medical treatment for conditions such as heart attacks. The previous death toll, which was based entirely on country-reported death tolls, was six million people.
The worst of the pandemic’s death toll occurred in 2021, when more infectious varieties wreaked havoc on even nations that had previously resisted prior outbreaks. According to the experts collected by the World Health Organization, overall mortality in that year were around 18 percent more — or an additional 10 million people — than they would have been without the epidemic.
The worst effects of the pandemic were felt most acutely in developing countries, with roughly eight million more people dying in lower-middle-income countries than had been projected throughout the epidemic.
However, India was far from the only nation in which fatalities were underreported by a significant margin. Experts believe that in countries where the number of extra deaths greatly outstripped the number of recorded Covid fatalities, the disparity might be a result of nations’ challenges to gather mortality statistics or their attempts to deliberately conceal the toll of the epidemic.
The existence of inaccuracies in official reports was publicly recognised in several nations. By the end of 2021, Russia, for example, had recorded around 310,000 Covid fatalities, but the World Health Organization’s specialists estimated that the true death toll was almost 1.1 million. That was consistent with prior estimates from the Russian National Statistics Agency, which is a quasi-independent organisation from the government.
Independent demographer Aleksei Raksha, who left the Russian state statistics service after complaining about the failure to properly count Covid deaths, claims that informal orders have been given to local authorities in order for Covid to be excluded from the primary cause of death in a large number of cases.
According to the World Health Organization’s specialists, calculating extra fatalities is difficult. Approximately half of the nations in the world do not disclose the total number of fatalities from all causes on a regular basis. Others merely provide a portion of the information. The specialists from the World Health Organization’s African division said that they only had data from six out of 47 nations in the area.
However, Giacomo De Nicola, a statistician at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich who has studied excess deaths in Germany, believes that the World Health Organization’s analysis may have underestimated the number of people who would have been expected to die in a normal year because of the country’s rapidly ageing population. This, in turn, might have resulted in overestimations of the number of extra fatalities.
He said that the experts convened by the World Health Organization had taken into consideration increases in mortality but had not directly taken into account changes in the age structure of the population. Despite the fact that Germany had an excess of fatalities, he noted, the World Health Organization’s estimate for the nation “looks quite excessive.”
In general, the World Health Organization’s projections were more cautious than other studies published earlier this year by The Economist and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
Some experts believe that the World Health Organization’s research benefitted by relying more largely on real data than other estimates, even when the data was imperfect, as opposed to statistical modelling.