COVID-19 is responsible for the deaths of more than 6 million people worldwide according to official counts. The more complete toll that includes deaths directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 could be up to three times greater, however, according To a new studyPublished in Lancet.
“We can confidently say that the pandemic has killed an extra 18.2 million people,” says Dr. Chris Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington and a co-author of the paper.
Those 18.2 million people represent what epidemiologists refer to as “excess deaths,” or the additional number of people who have died in a given period—in this case, Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2021—compared to the number that would be expected to die in the same span of time in the past. New data was gathered from 74 countries and extrapolated using computer models. The results were then used in the new study to calculate 191 countries.
The researchers used 11 years of historical data to compare the deaths reported in the 74 nations in 2020 and 2021 in order to estimate the excess COVID-19 deaths. COVID-19 was the cause of 80%, on average. Researchers determined that 20% of the remaining deaths were due to multiple factors, including diabetes and obesity. Although it may sound like an extreme leap to blame a heart attack on COVID-19, researchers found that other than overburdened hospitals and fears of contracting this virus, there were no other reasons for cardiovascular or other deaths to increase in 2020 and 2021. People were unable to make regular visits with their physicians.they are unable to take care of their chronic diseases or other obstacles that could prevent them from accessing health care. COVID-19 was more likely to be responsible for excess deaths in seniors than among those of other ages.
“There was an Coded death rates for dementia are on the rise,” Murray says. “But it’s very likely that these could be people in nursing homes or elder care who died and never got tested [for COVID-19].”
It made a big difference to which population was most likely to die from COVID-19. A handful of places—including Iceland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Taiwan—actually experienced a reduction in overall deaths in the studied two-year period compared to similar periods in the past. Researchers believe this was due to the effective lockdown protocols, which led to lower COVID-19 rates and other infections like influenza. The pandemic actions likely resulted in a reduction of deaths caused by injuries occurring outside of home.
The numbers are even worse in other regions. The world’s hardest hit regions were South Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. According to country, there were the most excess deaths in each region. India4.07,000,000 lives lost; U.S. at 1.13 Million; Russia at 1.07 Million; Mexico at 7998,000 and Brazil at 792,000.
These countries are ranked first because they have high numbers. Numbers of extra deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is an accurate way to measure the impact of the pandemic in each country. These five regions or countries were the most affected: Bolivia had 735 deaths extra per 100,000 population; Bulgaria had 647 and Eswatini was in south Africa with 635. North Macedonia had 584, Lesotho had 563, and Lesotho had 563.
Authors of the paper took care to exclude confounding variables that did not have anything to do COVID-19. For example, the model they built excluded deaths potentially related to natural disasters like heat waves—such as one that struck in Europe in July and August of 2020. They included data showing an increase in opioid-related deaths in certain parts of the U.S. that could be linked to increased isolation due to pandemics and decreased access to treatment for addiction. They also noted that excess deaths due to obesity or diabetes were not officially reported.
“We know that diabetes and obesity are the biggest risk factors, other than age, for dying from COVID,” says Murray. “So we’re pretty suspicious that those are just miscoded COVID deaths.”
The development world’s children were particularly affected by the slow progress of vaccines, leading to an increase in vaccine-preventable illnesses. Pandemic anxiety and isolation have had a devastating effect on the mental and emotional health of people around the world. “There is convincing evidence that rates of anxiety and depression increased during the pandemic period,” the authors of the paper wrote, “which might lead to increases in deaths from suicide.”
This study has its flaws. The 74 countries that provided reliable death and cause-of-death statistics are only 38% of all the 191 nations in the overall paper. It is possible that not all computer models are perfect. However, it might seem excessive to attribute every single one of 18.2 million deaths between 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic. “Direct measurement would be preferable to modeled excess mortality,” the authors conceded.
It is difficult to understand why 18 million more deaths occurred during pandemics. COVID-19 might not have killed all those people, but it certainly had a large part. “We don’t have hard and fast evidence on it,” says Murray. “But we are saying that the majority of these 18.2 million people would not have died but for the pandemic.”