The COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for the death of 13 to 17 million people at the end of 2021, far more than the official death toll, according to a new WHO estimate released Thursday.
These highly anticipated figures give a more realistic idea of the devastating effects – including indirect ones – of the worst pandemic in a century and which continues to claim thousands of lives every week.
“New estimates from the World Health Organization show that the total toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic between 1er January 2020 and December 31, 2021 is approximately 14.9 million dead (a range of 13.3 to 16.6 million),” the organization revealed in a statement.
Since the start of the pandemic, figures from member countries compiled by the WHO come to a total of 5.4 million deaths over the same period, but the WHO has long warned that these figures underestimate the reality .
“These sobering data underscore not only the impact of the pandemic, but also 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 WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Excess mortality is calculated by taking the difference between the actual number of deaths and the number of deaths estimated in the absence of a pandemic, based on existing statistics.
The WHO issued its high alert for COVID-19 on January 30, 2020 a few weeks after the first cases were detected in China at the end of 2019.
Excess mortality includes both deaths directly caused by the disease and those indirectly caused by the impact of the pandemic on health systems and society in general.
The indirect causes of death linked to Covid can be due in particular to overloaded health structures and forced, for example, to delay surgical procedures or chemotherapy sessions for cancer patients.
The WHO said most of the excess deaths (84%) were concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Some 10 countries alone accounted for 68% of the total excess mortality.
High-income countries accounted for 15% of excess deaths compared to 28% for upper-middle-income countries and 53% for lower-middle-income countries. As for low-income countries, they represented 4%.
The global death toll was higher among men than women – 57% men, 43% women – and higher among older people.
“Measuring excess mortality is an essential component for understanding the impact of the pandemic,” explained Samira Asma, in charge of the file at the WHO.
More reliable information allows decision makers to better prepare the ground to limit the impact of future crises.
“These new estimates are based on the best available data produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach,” she explained.
The subject is extremely sensitive because of the political repercussions of these figures, linked to the quality of the management of the crisis by the authorities.
The WHO said it relied on a group of recognized experts in their field who developed a methodology to extrapolate in cases where data is insufficient or incomplete.
Many countries in the world do not have the means to collect reliable data on mortality and therefore cannot rely on the lessons that can be drawn from the study of excess mortality data.
The methodology developed by WHO experts should make it possible to circumvent the obstacle.