Death toll from Covid pandemic far higher that reported by countries: WHO
Nearly 15 million more people died during the pandemic than would have in normal times, the World Health Organization said, a staggering measure of Covid’s true toll that laid bare how vastly country after country has undercounted victims.
In Mexico, the excess death toll during the first two years of the pandemic was twice as high as the government’s official tally of Covid deaths, the W.H.O. found.
In Egypt, excess deaths were roughly 12 times as great as the official Covid toll. In Pakistan, the figure was eight times as high.
Those estimates, calculated by a global panel of experts assembled by the W.H.O., represent what many scientists see as the most reliable gauge of the total impact of the pandemic.
Faced with large gaps in global death data, the expert team set out to calculate excess mortality: the difference between the number of people who died in 2020 and 2021 and the number who would have been expected to die during that time if the pandemic had not happened.
Their calculations combined national data on reported deaths with new information from localities and household surveys, and with statistical models that aimed to account for deaths that were missed.
Most of the excess deaths were victims of Covid itself, the experts said, but some died because the pandemic made it more difficult to get medical care for ailments such as heart attacks. The previous toll, based solely on death counts reported by countries, was six million.
Much of the loss of life from the pandemic was concentrated in 2021, when more contagious variants tore through even countries that had fended off earlier outbreaks. Overall deaths that year were roughly 18 percent higher — an extra 10 million people — than they would have been without the pandemic, the W.H.O.-assembled experts estimated.
Developing nations bore the brunt of the devastation, with nearly eight million more people than expected dying in lower-middle-income nations during the pandemic.
“It’s absolutely staggering what has happened with this pandemic, including our inability to accurately monitor it,” said Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto, who was a member of the expert working group that made the calculations. “It shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.”
The figures had been ready since January, but their release was stalled by objections from India, which disputes the methodology for calculating how many of its citizens died.
Nearly a third of the excess deaths globally — 4.7 million — took place in India, according to the W.H.O. estimates. The Indian government’s own figure through the end of 2021 is 481,080 deaths.
But India was far from the only country where deaths were substantially underreported. Where excess deaths far outstripped the number of reported Covid fatalities, experts said the gap could reflect countries’ struggles to collect mortality data or their efforts to intentionally obscure the toll of the pandemic.