May 5, 2022 -- The World Health has issued new estimates on the deadliness of the COVID pandemic, saying 14.9 million people died “directly or indirectly” because of coronavirus between January 2020 and December 2021.
In a news release, WHO said its analysis included indirect COVID deaths, defined as occurring when people could not obtain medical treatment because the pandemic overburdened health systems, even if the people were sick with something besides COVID. WHO did not break down the numbers into direct and indirect deaths.
WHO said it determined between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths occurred during the first two years of the pandemic. While most health experts said the death toll was undercounted, these numbers are much higher than the current official death toll of 6.2 million reported by Johns Hopkins University that’s based on deaths directly attributed to the virus.
“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to 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,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, said in the release.
“WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”
About 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas, WHO said, with 68% of the excess deaths happening in 10 countries including the United States. The death toll was still higher for males – 57% compared to 43% for females.
According to STAT, WHO estimated almost 1 million people had died because of COVID by the end of 2021 – about 13% more than the number of COVID deaths reported at the time. In the Johns Hopkins count, the United States has only reported about 996,000 deaths up to now, more than four months into the new year.
The WHO methodology found that 4.74 million people died in India because of COVID in the first two years of the pandemic, a figure disputed by the government, STAT said. India had counted only 481,000 deaths during that time, but on Tuesday said there were an extra 475,000 deaths in 2020 alone, though India didn’t say how many were COVID-related.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health, told the Associated Press. He was not involved in the WHO estimates.