The coronavirus pandemic may have claimed around 18 million lives worldwide, more than 3 times the official death toll, according to a new estimate.
According to an analysis by a team of health researchers published in The Lancet, the higher number represents a better approximation of the true number of victims worldwide by the end of 2021.
Researchers say the actual death toll from COVID19 as of December 31, 2021 was 18.2 million, This far exceeds the 5.9 million deaths reported by various official sources for the same period.
The discrepancy can be attributed to a major under counts in official statistics due to late and incomplete reporting, as well as a lack of data in dozens of countries. Determining the death toll is crucial, as it is necessary for successful public health decision-making.
Motality impact of coronavirus pandemic
A team of researchers from Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) in Seattle, Washington, collected information on all causes of death in 74 countries & territories. Not all countries had such data, so the authors had to rely on a statistical model to calculate mortality estimates.
They used a measure called excess deaths, which refers to the number of people who died compared to what would have been expected in the last few years prior to pandemic. Excess deaths are estimated to have varied widely across countries & locations; however, the study managed to determine an overall worldwide rate of 120 deaths per 100,000 people.
We have seen that Andean Latin America (512 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), Eastern Europe (345 deaths per 100,000), Central Europe (316 deaths per 100,000), southern sub Saharan Africa (309 deaths per 100,000) & Central Latin America (274 deaths per 100,000) had the highest estimated excess mortality rates.
Understanding full impact of pandemic
Previous studies from Sweden & Netherlands have indicated that COVID19 was directly responsible for most of the excess deaths seen there, which could easily be-the case in other countries. However, deaths may also have occurred in-directly from suicide or drug use as a result of behavior changes or lack of access to health care & other essential services.
The IHME findings are the first estimate of excess deaths to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the researchers say more research is needed to differentiate deaths directly caused by COVID19 from deaths caused by indirect effects of the pandemic. People who did not have COVID19, for example, may have died from insufficient medical care in over-crowded hospitals.
Vaccines & innovative therapies, researchers say, will reduce excess mortality associated with the pandemic; however, they also warn that the pandemic is far from over as deadly new strains of the virus could arise.