May 5, 2022 - World

WHO says COVID pandemic caused nearly 15 million excess deaths

A health worker taking a swab sample from a patient at a COVID-19 testing site in San Salvador, El Salvador.
A COVID testing site in San Salvador, El Salvador. Photo: Camilo Freedman/Aphotografia/Getty Images

The World Health Organization said Thursday that it estimates around 14.9 million people around the world died directly or indirectly from the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021.

The big picture: That figure is double the more than 6 million COVID-19 deaths that have been officially reported by countries, though determining exactly how many people have died as a result of the pandemic has been difficult.

  • The WHO said excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.
  • The COVID pandemic indirectly killed millions of people because of its effect on health systems and society in general, the UN agency said.

What they're saying: "These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

  • "WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes," he added.

By the numbers: The agency said 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.

  • It added that 68% of excess deaths were concentrated in just 10 countries globally.
  • Middle-income countries accounted for 81% of the 14.9 million excess deaths over the 24-month period. High-income countries accounted for 15%.
  • The WHO said that the global death toll was higher for men than for women — 57% male and 43% female — and higher among older adults.

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