Coronavirus has killed more than double the number of people than has officially been reported, a study has claimed.
Analysts in the US estimate the disease has caused about 6.9million deaths globally – as opposed to the 3.2m declared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
They warned that low testing numbers and weak healthcare systems in developing countries were partly behind the skewed statistics.
But a large amount of the under-reporting has occurred in Western countries which suffered huge epidemics, including the UK, US and Italy, according to the study.
It said this is mostly because of a lack of testing at the start of the pandemic, when many Covid patients died without a test to confirm the cause of death.
The team at Washington University’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation warned the findings show the true toll of the pandemic is ‘significantly worse’ than meets the eye.
According to the analysis, the US has the highest number of Covid deaths globally with 905,289 – far higher than the 574,043 officially recorded.
It is followed by India and Mexico which are each estimated to have suffered more than 600,000 virus victims, three times the WHO’s tallies.
Britain was found to have had 209,661 Covid fatalities, about 60,000 more than have actually been recorded.
The analysis only includes deaths caused directly by Covid and not those indirectly caused by the pandemic, including disruptions to healthcare.
Coronavirus has killed more than double the number of people than has officially been reported, a study has claimed. Analysts in the US estimate the disease has caused about 6.9million deaths globally – as opposed to the 3.2m declared by the World Health Organization (WHO). The analysis only includes deaths caused directly by Covid and not those indirectly caused by the pandemic, including disruptions to healthcare
Dr Chris Murray, the IHME’s director, said: ‘As terrible as the Covid-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse.
‘Understanding the true number of Covid-19 deaths not only helps us appreciate the magnitude of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to policymakers developing response and recovery plans.’
The researchers said deaths have gone unreported because countries only count those which occur in hospitals or in patients with a confirmed infection.
In many places, weak health reporting systems and low access to health care magnify this challenge.
IHME estimated the real Covid death toll by comparing anticipated deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends with the actual number of all-cause deaths during the pandemic.
This ‘excess mortality’ figure was then adjusted to remove deaths indirectly attributable to the pandemic.
These would include people with non-Covid conditions avoiding health care facilities, as well as deaths averted by the pandemic – for example, declines in traffic deaths due to lockdowns.
IHME’s analysis found that the largest number of unreported deaths occurred in countries that have had the largest epidemics to-date.
However, some countries with relatively smaller epidemics saw a large increase in the death rate when accounting for unreported deaths.
This analysis shows that they may be at greater risk for a wider epidemic than previously thought.
‘Many countries have devoted exceptional effort to measuring the pandemic’s toll, but our analysis shows how difficult it is to accurately track a new and rapidly spreading infectious disease,’ Murray said.
‘We hope that today’s report will encourage governments to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 mortality reporting, so that they can more accurately direct pandemic resources.’
Moving forward, IHME’s COVID-19 modeling, which forecasts the potential course of the pandemic over the next several months, will be based on these estimates of total COVID-19 deaths.
IHME’s modeling is updated weekly and can be accessed at covid19.healthdata.org.