Covid deaths could triple official figures

A study published in 'The Lancet' raises global deaths attributable to coronavirus to 18.2 million

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Health professionals attending a patient in the covid ICU of the Hospital del Vall d'Hebron

BarcelonaDeaths attributable to the cronavirus pandemic just two years ago today could be many more than the 5.9 million reported in official figures between January 2020 and December 2021. A study published in the scientific journal The Lancet now argues that the real number of excess deaths could be three times higher, 18.2 million. The report compiled data on deaths from all causes by week and month during the two years since covid broke out, as well as the previous eleven years. From this information, it has made a model to estimate the overall excess deaths during the pandemic.

Researchers behind the analysis, coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (USA), stress, however, that more work is needed to understand what proportion of this mortality is a direct consequence of covid, as the study's lead author, Haidong Wang, admits. Previous work on data from countries such as Sweden and Norway suggests that the virus is the direct cause of a large proportion of the deaths, but "for now there is not enough evidence available" to assert this with more certainty, they argue, and also warn that the accuracy of figures has limitations, because they have used statistical methods to calculate the possible excess mortality in countries that have not published sufficient data.

By region, the Andean zone of Latin America would be the hardest hit in the world, with an excess mortality of 512 people per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Eastern Europe (345 excess deaths per 100,000 inhabitants), Central Europe (316 deaths), the southern part of sub-Saharan Africa (309 deaths) and central Latin America (274 deaths).

Differences between countries

In the world as a whole, 120 more people died per 100,000 inhabitants than would have been expected if the coronavirus pandemic had not broken out, according to the study's estimate. Some countries, on the other hand, recorded a below-average death rate during this period, including Iceland (48 fewer deaths per 100,000 population), Australia (38 fewer) and Singapore (16 fewer). In absolute numbers, India was the country with the largest number of excess deaths (4.1 million), followed by the United States (1.1 million), Russia (also 1.1 million), Mexico (798,000) and Brazil (792,000).

The study's authors suggest that the wide difference between the official numbers of deaths and the additional victims that appear in the records may be due to "under-diagnosis cause by the lack of tests" and "problems with the publication" of the data.

Deaths that were not directly caused by the disease may have been due to causes such as suicide, "drug use motivated by behavioural changes" or lack of access to health care and other essential services, the researchers believe. The impact of each of these factors varies by country and region. The authors of the study hope that as more countries publish detailed data on causes of death, it will be possible to know the effects of the pandemic more precisely.