The actual death count due to Covid-19 across the globe are at least 2-3 times higher than the 3.4 million deaths officially reported, says the World Health Organization (WHO).
Its preliminary estimates suggest the total number of global deaths attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 is at least 3 million, representing 1.2 million more deaths than the 1.8 million officially reported. Based on the excess mortality estimates for 2020, the 3.4 million deaths currently reported to WHO are likely a significant undercount, with true figures at least 2-3 times higher.
Every country is facing challenges to report Covid-19 deaths, and WHO is working with all stakeholders to refine statistical models and obtain accurate counts. The global and regional estimates of excess mortality will be followed by country estimates later this year, said WHO.
It said significant data gaps exist in the African, Eastern Mediterranean, South-East Asian, and Western Pacific regions for which just over 3,60,000 total Covid-19 deaths were reported in 2020. Only 16 of the 106 Member States in these regions have sufficient data to make empirical calculations. At the regional level, Covid-19 excess mortality estimates range from 1.34-1.46 million in the Region of the Americas to 1.11-1.21 million in the European Region in 2020. This represents about 60% and 50% more than reported COVID-19 deaths, respectively.
The WHO convened a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Covid-19 Mortality Assessment to develop harmonised methods for excess mortality and help determine the total number of direct and indirect deaths attributable to Covid-19. The COVID TAG is comprised of leading demographers, epidemiologists, data and social scientists and statisticians from a range of backgrounds and geographies. The COVID TAG considered several statistical models and after assessing performance, interpretability and extensibility proposed a negative binomial regression model. The model predicts the number of total deaths for the year 2020 conditional on the population size and expected deaths for the year as well as a predicted mortality rate parameter. This rate parameter captures both the direct and indirect impacts of Covid-19 and is modelled using country-specific variables.
Following the release of global and regional COVID-19 excess mortality estimates, the Covid-TAG of WHO will continue to refine the statistical models used in estimating excess mortality. It will actively engage Member States to improve the availability and quality of data and work with the TAG to produce country estimates. Once created, preliminary country estimates will be shared through the World Health Data Hub country portal for official consultation, said WHO.
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