As the United States careens closer to an official tally of 1 million lives lost to Covid-19, the World Health Organization this morning provided Deadline and other outlets with a detailed estimate of the “full death toll” that can be attributed either directly or indirectly to Covid-19 worldwide.
Called “excess mortality,” the number is calculated as the difference between the deaths that have occurred and the number that — based on data from earlier years — would be expected in the absence of the pandemic.
A group of top experts convened by WHO and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs calculated excess mortality related to the pandemic between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021 at approximately 14.9 million lives lost, with a range from 13.3 million to 16.6 million. Given that there have been well over 100,000 additional deaths in 2022 so far, the total current number of excess Covid-related deaths can easily be said to be over 15 million.
Population-wise, that’s as if Portugal, Sweden, Cuba, Rwanda or Greece were wiped off the map. And the tally may be low.
An estimate from The Lancet of excess mortality worldwide due to Covid-19 over the course of 2020 and 2021 pegged the full death toll at more than 18 million. Meanwhile, the more commonly-cited direct calculation of Covid deaths we hear on the nightly news is about 6 million. That means between 9 and 12 million deaths worldwide routinely go unrecognized in most reported tallies.
WHO explained some specifics related to the count:
Excess mortality includes deaths associated with Covid-19 directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society). Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.
South-East Asia, Europe and the Americas account for 84% of the excess deaths. Some 68% of all lives determined lost to the pandemic are concentrated in just 10 countries. Middle-income countries account for fully 81% of the 14.9 million excess deaths. High-income and low-income countries account for just 15% and 4% of the total, respectively.