The COVID-19 Global Death Toll May Be A Lot Higher Than We Originally Thought

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill and caused the death of over 6 million people, according to current official figures (via Statista). But according to a March 2022 analysis published in The Lancet, this figure may actually be three times as high as countries around the world may have vastly undercounted the actual deaths caused by COVID-19 over the past two years.

The researchers looked at all-cause mortality reports from over 74 nations and 266 subnational locations, paying special attention to low- and middle-income countries where cases of undercounting are thought to be the highest. By comparing this all-cause mortality to expected mortality, researchers were able to estimate what portion of the actual deaths may have been caused by COVID-19 and not reported as such. Their official estimate is that an incredibly high number of people around the globe — 18.2 million — may have actually died from the virus over the course of the pandemic.

Why some countries do not have accurate case counts

"Understanding the true death toll from the pandemic is vital for effective public health decision-making," the study's lead author, Dr. Haidong Wang of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said in a press release. "Studies from several countries including Sweden and the Netherlands, suggest COVID-19 was the direct cause of most excess deaths, but we currently don't have enough evidence for most locations."

After the researchers conducted the analysis, they found that it was countries in the global south that actually suffered the most from the COVID-19 pandemic. Counting 5.3 million excess deaths, they state that South Asia had the highest number of estimated excess deaths from COVID-19, and that North Africa and the Middle East (1.7 million) followed. Eastern Europe (1.4 million) also showed undercounting (via Eureka Alert). Gaps in access to proper testing and diagnostic equipment as well death registration systems are thought to be responsible for most of the undercounting.