True COVID-19 Deaths Close to 7 million, Says Key Global Institute

Almost seven million people are estimated to have died of COVID-19 globally based on  “excess mortality” statistics, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which announced on Friday that it would now be using these statistics rather than official death rates.

This “major change in how we think about the number of deaths” had occured after the institute had completed an analysis of all-cause mortality for 59 countries and 198 states and provinces within countries, said IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray from the University of Washington.

Using the new estimates, the US has the highest deaths in the world – over 900,000 – followed by India with over 650,000. Egypt’s death toll of around 170,000 is the highest in Africa – and way higher than official statistics.

New global death estimates, based on excess mortality.

Murray said that using excess mortality as a metric allowed IHME “to get closer to the true number of COVID deaths”, and the institute noted that “most excess mortality is likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths”.

Murray acknowledged that factors inflating excess mortality included deaths of people who had avoided healthcare during the pandemic, and deaths related to increased depression and drug use.

But “injuries are down perhaps about 5% globally due to reductions in mobility”, and so were flu deaths because of lockdowns. 

“When you put all that together, we conclude that the closest estimate for the true COVID-19 death is still excess mortality because some of those things are on the positive side, some of those other factors are on the negative side,” said Murray.

“Once we have completed this analysis, our understanding of the magnitude of COVID up to date, is that it’s been much worse than we have been thinking so far, and we have estimated that today 6.9 million people have died from COVID already,” he added.

Rival Spanish Flu

“Given our expectation of continued deaths, COVID is going to rival Spanish flu at the global level in terms of the count before we see the end of this epidemic.”

An analysis by the Netherlands statistical agency suggested that all excess deaths in the Netherlands were directly due to COVID-19, according to IHME.

“Their analysis actually suggested that direct COVID-19 deaths may be higher than estimated excess deaths because deaths due to some other causes have declined during the pandemic,” it added.

“Given that there is insufficient evidence to estimate these contributions to excess mortality, for now we assume that total COVID-19 deaths equal excess mortality,” said the IHME.

“For the reasons presented in this section, we believe that this is likely an underestimate. As the evidence is strengthened in the coming months and years, it is likely that we will revise our estimates of the total COVID-19 death rate upward in future iterations of this work, once we can properly take into account the drivers described in this section.”



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