Global assessment of COVID-19 | The pandemic has killed nearly 15 million people, according to the WHO

(Geneva) The COVID-19 pandemic was responsible for the deaths of 13 to 17 million people at the end of 2021, far more than the official global death toll, according to a new WHO estimate that is already causing controversy.

Posted at 8:18 am
Updated at 10:55 am

Robin Millard
Media Agency France

These much-anticipated figures give a more realistic picture of the devastating impact of the worst pandemic in a century, which according to the data has already killed 1 in 500 people and continues to claim thousands of lives every week.

“The total toll directly or indirectly related to the COVID-19 pandemic between 01.01ah January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021 are approximately 14.9 million dead (a range of 13.3 to 16.6 million),” the organization announced on Thursday.

Since the start of the pandemic, official figures from member countries compiled by WHO total 5.4 million deaths over the same period, but WHO has long warned that these statistics underestimate reality.

The WHO said most of the excess deaths (84%) were concentrated in Southeast Asia, which in the WHO’s regional breakdown includes India, Europe (including Russia and other countries of the former USSR) and the Americas.

About 10 countries alone accounted for 68% of the total excess mortality, these are, in descending order, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Peru, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States.


“These sobering data underscore not only the impact of the pandemic, but also the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems capable of maintaining essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus .

In fact, figures released by the WHO on Thursday suffer from holes in the statistics as data collection for certain countries is sometimes fragmented or even completely non-existent. The ranges given sometimes go from single to double.

The organization therefore estimates that 6 out of 10 deaths worldwide go unrecorded.

Excess mortality is calculated by calculating the difference between the actual number of deaths and the number of deaths estimated based on existing statistics in the absence of a pandemic.

Excess mortality includes both direct and indirect deaths caused by the disease.

The indirect causes can lie in particular in overburdened health structures and e.g. For example, in cancer patients, they are forced to delay surgery or chemotherapy sessions.

Sometimes imprisonment has also avoided deaths such as traffic accidents.


“Measuring excess mortality is an essential part of understanding the impact of the pandemic,” said Samira Asma, records officer at WHO.

More reliable information allows decision-makers to better prepare the ground to limit the impact of future crises.

“These new estimates are based on the best available data, produced using a robust methodology and a fully transparent approach,” she said.

The issue is extremely sensitive due to the political implications, as these numbers are indicators of the quality of crisis management by the authorities.

India in particular criticized the WHO estimates on Thursday, which are ten times higher than the country’s official estimate, and considered the calculation method to be wrong. India has reported 481,000 COVID-19 deaths for 2020-21, a figure estimated by the WHO at around 4.75 million deaths. The international organization attributes almost a third of the pandemic-related deaths worldwide to India.

“Due to its large area, diversity and population of 1.3 billion that has experienced a pandemic of varying severity […]India has always been opposed to using a one-size-fits-all approach and model that may apply to smaller countries but not to India,” the Indian Ministry of Health and Family said in a statement.

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