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Covid-19 mortality

It has dominated news cycles, debates and policies since 2020, but COVID-19 continues to exercise the interest of number crunchers and talliers. While the ghoulish daily press announcements about infections and deaths across many a country have diminished and, in some cases, disappeared altogether, publications abound about how many were taken in the pandemic. The World Health Organization, ever that herald of dark news, has offered a revised assessment across of the SARS-CoV-2 death toll associated either directly or indirectly with the pandemic. Between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, the global health body suggests that the mortality figure is closer to 14.9 million, with a range of 13.3 million to 16.6 million.

The number considers excess mortality, the figure reached after accounting for the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred, and the number expected in the absence of the pandemic. It also accounts for deaths occasioned directly by COVID-19, or indirectly (for instance, the pandemic’s disruption of society and health systems). The impact, as expected, has been disproportionate in terms of which countries have suffered more. Of the excess deaths, 68 per cent were concentrated in 10 countries – Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States. Middle-income countries accounted for 81 per cent of excess deaths; high-income countries, for 15 per cent, and low-income countries, 4 per cent.

The United States, if only for being ascendant in terms of power, wealth, and incompetence in dealing with the virus, finds itself in the undistinguished position of having lost a million people. “Today,” remarked President Joe Biden, “we mark a tragic milestone here in the United States, one million Covid deaths, one million empty chairs around the family dinner table, each irreplaceable, irreplaceable losses, each leaving behind a family, a community forever changed because of this pandemic.” Chief Medical Adviser to the President, Anthony Fauci, rued the fact that “at least a quarter of those deaths, namely about 250,000” might have been saved by vaccinations. He also warned about the ugly prospect of a resurgence in numbers, and not bringing “down our guard”.

In light of such figures, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterates the line he and his colleagues have done so for months. Pandemics demand more “resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems”. His organisation “was committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.” Much of this will be wishful thinking. Figures, certainly when they concern matters of mortality, can become the subject of bitter dispute. Covid-19 has proved no exception.

Excerpted: ‘Morbid Matters: Estimating COVID-19 Mortality’.

Binoy Kampmark, "Covid-19 mortality," The News. 2022-05-19.
Keywords: Health sciences , Health systems , Health organization , Health services , Covid-19 , Pandemic , Vaccinations , Anthony Fauci , Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , Brazil , Egypt , WHO