LONDON ( Associated Press) – The World Health Organization estimates that around 15 million people died during the first two years of the pandemic, either from the coronavirus or its impact on overwhelmed health systems, more than double the current official death toll of 6 million. is more.
According to a WHO report released on Thursday, most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe and America.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the United Nations health agency, described the newly calculated figure as “thinking”, saying it prompted countries to invest more in their capabilities to mitigate future health emergencies. should do.
The WHO tasked scientists with determining the actual number of COVID-19 deaths between January 2020 and the end of last year. They estimated that 13.3 million to 16.6 million deaths were either directly caused by the coronavirus or by factors that were somehow responsible for the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19. Being full of patients were unable to get treatment.
Based on that range, the scientists came up with an estimated total of 14.9 million.
The estimate was based on country-reported data and statistical modeling, but only half of the countries provided the information. The WHO said it was not yet able to break down the data to distinguish between direct deaths from COVID-19 and those related to the impact of the pandemic, but the agency plans a future project examining death certificates is planned.
Dr Albert Ko, an infectious disease specialist at Yale, said: “It may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but understanding these WHO numbers is so important to how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to them.” should keep.” School of Public Health that was not associated with the WHO research.
For example, Ko said, South Korea’s decision to invest heavily in public health after experiencing a severe outbreak of MERS made it the highest per capita death rate in the United States to avoid COVID-19. Gave permission.
Accurate counting of COVID-19 deaths has been problematic throughout the pandemic, as reports of confirmed cases represent only a fraction of the devastation caused by the virus, largely due to limited testing. Government figures reported to the WHO and a separate tally kept by Johns Hopkins University have reported more than 6.2 million virus deaths so far.
Scientists at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington calculated for a recent study published in the journal Lancet that there were more than 18 million COVID deaths from January 2020 to December 2021.
A team led by Canadian researchers estimated that there were more than 3 million uncounted coronavirus deaths in India alone. The new analysis by WHO estimates that the missed deaths in India alone were between 33 lakh and 65 lakh.
In a statement after the release of WHO figures, India disputed the functioning of the UN agency. India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare called the methods of analysis and data collection “questionable” and complained that the new death estimates were released “without adequately addressing India’s concerns”.
Sameera Asma, a senior WHO director, acknowledged that “the numbers are sometimes controversial” and that all estimates are only estimates of the virus’s devastating effects.
“It has become very clear throughout the course of the pandemic, there are data that are missing,” Asma told reporters during a press briefing on Thursday. “Basically, we all got caught unprepared.”
Ko said the new WHO figures could also explain some lingering mysteries about the pandemic, such as why Africa appears to be the least affected by the virus, despite its fragile health systems and low vaccination rates.
“Was the death rate so low because we couldn’t count the deaths, or was there some other factor to explain it?” He asked, citing high death rates in the US and Europe.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, a public health expert at the UK’s University of Exeter, said the world could never get close to measuring the true toll of COVID-19, especially in poor countries.
“When you have a large-scale outbreak where people are dying on the streets because of lack of oxygen, bodies were abandoned or people had to be cremated quickly because of cultural beliefs, we never know in the end. That’s how many people died,” he explained.
Panchania said the death toll from COVID-19 was still low compared to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which experts estimate killed 100 million people, given the fact that advances in modern medicine, including vaccines Despite this, so many people have died. shameful
He also warned that given the increasing burden of caring for people living with COVID in the long run, the cost of COVID-19 could be far more damaging in the long term.
“With the Spanish flu, there was the flu and then there were some (lung) diseases that people suffered, but that was the point,” he said. “There was no permanent immunological condition that we are seeing with COVID right now.”
“We don’t know to what extent people living with COVID in the long run will have a shorter life span and if they have recurrent infections that will cause them even more problems,” Pankhania said.
Krutika Pathi and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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