COVID-19 Deaths Could Be Double What The Official Figures Say, Report Finds

Aerial view of a cemetery. Image Credit: leshiy985/Shutterstock.com

A new analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington suggests that globally the real toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been seriously underestimated. The report estimates that 6.9 million people lost their lives directly to the diseases, over double the 3.3 million from official reports.

The IHME report, published last week, looked at the excess of deaths from the beginning of the pandemic on a week-by-week basis compared to what the average deaths have been in previous years. Understanding this will could make us more efficient in dealing with future pandemics.

The report authors looked at what the cause of these excess deaths could be and, obviously, COVID-19 is one of them. There have also been deaths due to disruption of health services, as hospitals struggled during the peaks of infections and increased mortality due to an increase in mental health disorders, alcohol use, and opioids during the pandemic.

There are other factors that actually led to a decrease in excessive deaths, including being in lockdown and so not succumbing to other diseases both viral (such as the flu) or chronic. The analysis of these parameters in countries across the world allowed the team to estimate what the likely death toll from COVID truly is.  

“As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse,” Dr Chris Murray, IHME’s director, said in a statement. “Understanding the true number of COVID-19 deaths not only helps us appreciate the magnitude of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to policymakers developing response and recovery plans.”

The number of deaths in the United States according to the model is over 905,000. That’s 57 percent higher than official reports. Much higher ratios are reported from India, Mexico, and Russia.  The report suggests that Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia were hardest hit in terms of total deaths.

“Many countries have devoted exceptional effort to measuring the pandemic’s toll, but our analysis shows how difficult it is to accurately track a new and rapidly spreading infectious disease,” Murray said. “We hope that today’s report will encourage governments to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 mortality reporting so that they can more accurately direct pandemic resources.”

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response has reported that many of these deaths were unnecessary and that it's possible to be prepared for the next crisis and end the COVID-19 pandemic quickly.

The equitable distribution of vaccines and vaccine technology across the world in the coming months is key to bringing the pandemic under control to stop further major loss of life.


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