Nearly 15 million deaths are related to COVID-19, according to the WHO.

The World Health Organization estimates that almost 15 million people have died from the coronavirus or its impact on overburdened health systems over the past two years, more than double the official death toll of 6 million. Most of the fatalities occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe and America.

In a report released Thursday, UN agency head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the figure “sobering”, saying it should encourage countries to invest more in their capacity to suppress future health emergencies.

Scientists tasked by the WHO with counting the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 between January 2020 and the end of last year estimated between 13.3 million and 16.6 million deaths that were either directly caused by the coronavirus or linked in some way to the impact of the pandemic on health systems, such as people with cancer who cannot seek treatment when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients.

Figures are based on data provided by countries and statistical modeling. The WHO did not immediately break down the numbers to distinguish between direct deaths from COVID-19 and others caused by the pandemic.

“It may seem like a simple tally, but having this WHO data is very important for understanding how we should fight future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” said Albert Koh, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Medicine. Public health not associated with WHO research. For example, Ko said South Korea’s decision to invest heavily in public health after a severe MERS outbreak allowed it to avoid COVID-19, with a per capita mortality rate about 20 times lower than the United States.

Accurate data on COVID-19 deaths have been problematic throughout the pandemic as the numbers represent only a fraction of the devastation caused by the virus, largely due to limited testing and differences in how countries count COVID-19 deaths. More than 6 million coronavirus deaths have been recorded to date, according to government data provided by WHO and a separate tally maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

Scientists at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that more than 18 million people died from COVID between January 2020 and December 2021 in a recent study published in the Lancet, and a team led by Canadian researchers calculated more. over 3 million unrecorded coronavirus deaths in India alone.

Some countries, including India, have disputed the WHO’s methodology for counting COVID deaths, resisting the idea that there were many more deaths than officially counted. Earlier this week, the Indian government released new data showing there were 474,806 more deaths in 2020 than the previous year, but did not say how many of those were related to the pandemic. India has not released any mortality estimates for 2021, when a highly contagious delta variant swept across the country, killing many thousands of people.

Yale’s Koh said better WHO data could also explain some of the lingering mysteries surrounding the pandemic, such as why Africa appeared to be one of the least affected by the virus despite low vaccination rates. “Was the death rate so low because we couldn’t count the number of deaths, or was it due to some other factor?” he said, adding that the number of deaths in wealthy countries such as the UK and the US proves that resources alone are not enough to contain a global outbreak.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, a public health specialist at the University of Exeter in the UK, said we may never get close to the true toll from COVID-19, especially in poor countries.

“When you have a massive outbreak, when people die on the streets due to lack of oxygen, bodies are abandoned or people have to be cremated quickly due to cultural beliefs, we end up never knowing how many people died,” he explained. .

While Panhania said the currently estimated death toll from COVID-19 still pales in comparison to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, when up to 100 million people are estimated to have died, he said the fact that so many people died despite advances in modern medicine, including vaccines. , ashamed.

He also warned that the cost of COVID-19 could be much more devastating in the long run, given the growing burden of protracted COVID.

“With the Spanish flu, there was the flu and then there were some (mild) diseases that people suffered from, but that’s about it,” he said. “There was no persistent immunological condition that we are seeing now with COVID,” he said.

“We don’t know how much life will be shortened for people with long-term COVID, and whether they will have recurring infections that will cause them even more problems.”

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