WHO provided a range of 13.3 million deaths to 16.6 million between Jan. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, deaths that it said Thursday were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization landed on 14.9 million deaths as an estimate within the range.
That figure is more than double the 6.2 million COVID-19 deaths Johns Hopkins University has recorded to date. WHO’s newly released figure also includes deaths indirectly caused from the COVID-19 pandemic, including its impact on health systems and society that may have delayed care for other ailments.
The deaths, called “excess mortality,” were calculated by finding the difference between the number of deaths that occurred and the number expected if there was no COVID-19 pandemic based on data from previous years.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement that the estimate shows a 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 is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes,” he said.
The organization used the “best available data” but noted that limited investments in data systems in many countries impacted the accuracy of the estimate.
Johns Hopkins University had previously reported in early March 2022 that over six million people have died from the virus, while Statistics Canada reported in November 2021 that Canada has seen more than 19,000 excess deaths from the pandemic.
WHO said 84 per cent of the excess deaths it reported happened in South-East Asia, Europe and the Americas, and 68 per cent of them occurred in 10 countries. Middle-income countries accounted for 81 per cent of the excess deaths, while high-income countries accounted for 15 per cent of the deaths and four per cent for low-income countries.
The global death toll is broken down to 57 per cent male and 43 per cent female, and was higher among older adults.