WHO estimates 14.9m excess deaths from COVID-19 pandemic

New estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that the death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, was approximately 14.9 million.

Most of the excess deaths, 84 percent, are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Some 68 percent of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally.

Middle-income countries account for 81 percent of the 14.9 million excess deaths, 53 percent in lower-middle-income countries and 28 percent in upper-middle-income countries over the 24-month period, with high-income and low-income countries each accounting for 15 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

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.

Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic.

The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.

“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,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

The estimates for a 24-month period include a breakdown of excess mortality by age and sex. They confirm that the global death toll was higher for men than for women (57 percent male, 43 percent female) and higher among older adults.

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The absolute count of the excess deaths is affected by the population size. The number of excess deaths per 100,000 gives a more objective picture of the pandemic than reported COVID-19 mortality data.

“Measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understanding the impact of the pandemic. Shifts in mortality trends provide decision-makers with information to guide policies to reduce mortality and effectively prevent future crises.

And because of limited investments in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden,” Samira Asma, assistant director-general for Data, Analytics and Delivery at WHO said.

Ibrahima Fall, assistant director-general for emergency response said: “The production of these estimates is a result of a global collaboration supported by the work of the technical advisory group for COVID-19 mortality assessment and country consultations.

This group, convened jointly by the WHO and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), consists of many of the world’s leading experts, who developed an innovative methodology to generate comparable mortality estimates even where data are incomplete or unavailable.

This methodology has been invaluable as many countries still lack the capacity for reliable mortality surveillance and therefore do not collect and generate the data needed to calculate excess mortality. Using the publicly available methodology, countries can use their own data to generate or update their own estimates.

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