How many people actually died due to Covid-19?
While the official global death toll from Covid-19 eclipsed 6 million on Monday (March 7, 2022), according to researchers, the actual death toll is likely three times more than what government figures imply.
The Covid-19 excess mortality team at Washington University in the US conducted the study based on figures from 191 countries and territories to find the "actual worldwide death figure", and revealed that more than 18 million individuals have probably died as a result of Covid-19, BBC reported.
The findings were recently published in The Lancet, two years after the World Health Organization first declared the pandemic.
According to the researchers, some of the deaths were caused by the virus while others were linked to it since catching Covid-19 could exacerbate other pre-existing medical issues, such as heart or lung disease.
Excess deaths – the metric used in the study – determines how many more individuals have died than would be predicted compared to recent years before the pandemic.
The researchers collected data from numerous government websites, the World Mortality Database, the Human Mortality Database, and the European Statistical Office to arrive at this conclusion.
Excess deaths are thought to have varied substantially by country and location, but the study computed total global rate of 120 deaths per 100,000 people, BBC reported.
That means about 18.2 million people died as a result of Covid-19 in the two years between the start of 2020 and the end of 2021, more than three times the stated 6 million deaths so far.
Due to delays and inconsistencies in reporting of Covid-19 mortality data, excess deaths were estimated for the entire research period rather than by week or month.
The investigators, however, warned that changing the figures will have a significant impact, BBC reported.
The highest rates were found in lower-income nations in Latin America, Europe, and Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the study. Also, some high-income countries, such as Italy and areas of the United States, have very high death rates.
Bolivia, Bulgaria, Eswatini, North Macedonia, and Lesotho have the highest estimated excess death rates, while Iceland, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and Taiwan have the lowest rates.
In the UK, the estimated total number of Covid-related deaths in 2020 and 2021 was around 173,000, with an excess mortality rate of 130 individuals per 100,000, similar to official figures.
"For effective public health decision-making, knowing the exact mortality toll from the pandemic is critical," said Dr Haidong Wang of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the study's lead author.
"Covid is suspected to be the direct cause of most excess deaths in various countries, including Sweden and the Netherlands, according to studies, although we don't have adequate evidence in most cases," Dr Wang also said.
"More research will be needed to determine how many fatalities were directly caused by Covid and how many were caused indirectly by the epidemic," the researcher added.
Vaccines and improved therapies, according to the researchers, will reduce excess mortality associated to the pandemic, BBC reported.
They, however, warned that the pandemic is far from over and new, severe strains of the virus may possibly emerge.