Friday, October 07, 2022

Defining Moment: COVID-19 Death Toll Reaches 5 Million

The global death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 5 million on Monday, less than two years after a crisis that not only devastated poor countries but also robbed the rich of top-notch health systems.

Together, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and Brazil – all upper-middle-income or high-income countries – account for one-eighth of the world’s population, but nearly half of all reported deaths. More than 745,000 people have died in the United States alone – more than any other country.

“This is a defining moment in our lives,” said Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at the Yale School of Public Health. “What do we need to do to protect ourselves so that we don’t get another 5 million?”

The death toll, according to estimates from Johns Hopkins University, is roughly equal to the population of Los Angeles and San Francisco combined. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo estimates it rivals the number of people killed in fighting between countries since 1950. COVID-19 is currently the third leading cause of death in the world after heart disease and stroke.

The staggering figure is almost certainly an underestimate due to limited testing and people dying at home without medical attention, especially in poorer parts of the world like India.

In the 22 months since the outbreak began, the “hot spots” have shifted, resulting in different places on the world map turning red. The virus is now hitting Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe, especially where rumors, misinformation and mistrust of government make vaccinations difficult. In Ukraine, only 17% of the adult population is fully vaccinated; in Armenia only 7%.

“What is unique about this pandemic is that it has hit the hardest hit countries with high resources,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, Columbia University’s global health center. “This is the irony of COVID-19.”

READ MORE: COVID has killed about as many Americans as estimated from the 1918-19 flu.

El Sadr noted that richer countries with longer life expectancies have more elderly cancer survivors and nursing home residents who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Poorer countries tend to have more children, adolescents, and young adults who are less likely to become seriously ill with coronavirus.

In India, despite a horrific delta spike that peaked in early May, the reported daily mortality rate is currently much lower than in wealthier Russia, the US or the UK, although there is uncertainty around these numbers.

The apparent mismatch between wealth and health is a paradox that medical professionals will ponder for years. But the picture that is seen on a large scale when comparing nations is different on closer inspection. In every rich country, poor areas suffer the most when deaths and infections are mapped.

In the United States, for example, COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on blacks and Hispanics, who are more likely than whites to live in poverty and have less access to health care.

“When we take out our microscopes, we see that within countries, the most vulnerable have suffered the most,” Ko said.

Wealth also played a role in the global vaccination campaign, with rich countries accused of blocking supplies. The US and other countries are already releasing booster vaccines at a time when millions in Africa have not received a single dose, although wealthy countries are also sending hundreds of millions of shots to the rest of the world.

Africa remains the least vaccinated region in the world, with only 5% of its 1.3 billion people fully covered.

“This devastating milestone reminds us that we are failing in most of the countries of the world,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a written statement. “This is the shame of the whole world.”

In Kampala, Uganda, Sissi Kagaba lost her 62-year-old mother over Christmas and her 76-year-old father a few days later.

“Christmas will never be the same for me,” said Kagaba, an anti-corruption activist from an East African country that has suffered multiple virus lockdowns and still has a curfew.

READ MORE: Most jobs closed in Moscow due to rising deaths and COVID infections

The pandemic has united the world in sorrow and pushed the survivors to their limits.

“Who else is there now? The responsibility lies with me. COVID has changed my life, ”said Rina Kesarwani, 32, a mother of two who had to run her late husband’s humble hardware store in a village in India.

Her husband, Anand Babu Kesarvani, died at the age of 38 during the devastating wave of coronavirus in India earlier this year. It struck one of the most chronically underfunded public health systems in the world and killed tens of thousands as hospitals ran out of oxygen and medicines.

In Bergamo, Italy, once the site of the first deadly wave in the West, 51-year-old Fabrizio Fidanza lost his last goodbye as his 86-year-old father lay dying in hospital. He is still struggling to come to terms with the loss over a year later.

“I have never seen him in the last month,” Fidanza said while visiting his father’s grave. “It was the worst moment. But coming here every week helps me. “

Today 92% of the eligible population of Bergamo has received at least one vaccination, which is the highest vaccination rate in Italy. The chief physician of Pope John XXIII’s hospital, Dr. Stefano Fagiuoli, said he believed it was a clear result of the city’s collective trauma, with the moans of ambulances being constant.

In Lake City, Florida, 38-year-old Latasha Graham still receives mail almost daily for her 17-year-old daughter Jo’Keria, who died of COVID-19 in August, just days before the start of high school. The girl, who was buried in a cap and a robe, wanted to become a trauma surgeon.

“I know she would have done it. I know she would be where she wanted, ”said her mother.

In Rio de Janeiro, Erica Machado looked through a list of names engraved on a long, wavy, oxidized steel sculpture that stands in Penitencia Cemetery in tribute to some of the Brazilian victims of COVID-19. Then she found him: Wagner Machado, her father.

“My father was the love of my life, my best friend,” said Machado, 40, a saleswoman who traveled from São Paulo to see her father’s name. “He was everything to me.”


AP journalists Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chhitpalgarh, India; Kara Anna in Nairobi, Kenya; Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda; Kelly Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Colleen Barry in Bergamo, Italy; and Diane Gante from Rio de Janeiro contributed.

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