More than 6 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, according to official counts. But the more elaborate toll, counting deaths directly or indirectly attributable to COVID-19, could be three times higher, according to a new study published in the Lancet†
“We can confidently say that the pandemic has killed an additional 18.2 million people,” said Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington and co-author of the paper.
Those 18.2 million people represent what epidemiologists call “excessive deaths,” or the additional number of people who died in a given time period — in this case from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021 — compared to past numbers in the same period. time span would die. The new study was based on data from 74 countries that tracked excess deaths and used computer models to extrapolate those numbers to 191 countries worldwide.
To roughly understand how many additional deaths caused by COVID-19, the researchers compared reported deaths in the 74 countries in 2020 and 2021 with 11 years of previous data. On average, 80% of the 18.2 million deaths were above the expected number on death certificates as caused by COVID-19. The remaining 20% had multiple causes, such as chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, but the researchers determined that these are also linked to COVID-19. Blaming a heart attack, for example, on COVID-19 may seem like a jump, but researchers determined there was no other reason why cardiovascular and other deaths had risen in 2020 and 2021, other than overburdened hospitals, fear of spreading the virus to walk that prevented people from making regular visits to doctors to care for their chronic conditions, and other pandemic-related barriers to health care. Excess deaths among seniors, a population particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of the virus, were more likely caused by COVID-19 than those among other age groups.
“There was an increase in coded deaths for dementia,” Murray says. “But it is very likely that these are people in nursing homes or aged care who have died and have never been tested [for COVID-19]†
Geography made a huge difference in which populations were most at risk of dying from COVID-19. In fact, in a handful of places, including Iceland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Taiwan, the total number of deaths over the two-year period studied has fallen compared to comparable periods in the past. This was likely due to effective lockdown protocols leading to lower rates of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases such as flu, the researchers say. These pandemic measures also likely reduced deaths from injuries that may have occurred outside the safer confines of the home.
But elsewhere the numbers were much grim. The worst affected regions in the world were South Asia, North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. By country, the highest number of additional deaths occurred in India, with 4.07 million lives claimed; the US, at 1.13 million; Russia, at 1.07 million; Mexico with 798,000 and Brazil with 792,000.
Part of the reason those countries rank first is simply because of their high population density. A more accurate measure of the pandemic toll by country is the number of additional deaths per 100,000 people. Measured that way, the five worst affected countries or regions were Bolivia, with 735 additional deaths per 100,000 people; Bulgaria, at 647; Eswatini, in southern Africa, on 635; North Macedonia, with 584; and Lesotho, at 563.
The authors of the article were careful to eliminate confounding factors unrelated to COVID-19. For example, the model they built ruled out deaths that may have been related to natural disasters such as heat waves, such as one that hit Europe in July and August 2020. In contrast, they include data linking an increase in opioid deaths in some parts of the US to pandemic isolation and reduced access to addiction treatment. And they took special note of the number of deaths officially recorded from diabetes or obesity.
“We know that diabetes and obesity are the biggest risk factors, other than age, for dying from COVID,” Murray says. “So we’re pretty suspicious that these are just miscoded COVID deaths.”
Vaccination efforts have also been hampered, especially among children in developing countries, possibly leading to an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases. Around the world, the emotional and psychological effects of pandemic fears and isolation may have claimed their own exorbitant death toll from a rise in depression and other psychiatric conditions. “There is compelling evidence that anxiety and depression have increased during the pandemic,” the paper’s authors wrote, “which could lead to an increase in suicide deaths.”
The study is not without its flaws, not least because the 74 countries for which reliable reports on mortality and official causes of death were available accounted for only 38% of the 191 countries generally featured in the paper. No computer model is perfect, and it could be too much of a task to attribute each of the 18.2 million additional deaths in 2020 and 2021 to the pandemic. “Direct measurement would be preferable to modeled excess mortality,” the authors admitted.
Yet 18 million additional deaths during a pandemic are difficult to explain in any other way. COVID-19 may not have claimed all those lost lives, but it certainly took a huge share. “We don’t have hard and fast evidence for it,” Murray said. “But we are saying that the majority of these 18.2 million people would not have died without the pandemic.”
This post A new report shows the real death toll from COVID-19 may be three times higher than we thought
was original published at “https://time.com/6156774/covid-19-deaths-worldwide-estimate/”