WHO estimates 14.9 million excess Covid deaths in 2020 and 2021

WHO estimates 14.9 million excess Covid deaths in 2020 and 2021
© iStock/Hydromet

New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show approximately 14.9 million excess Covid deaths.

The data indicates the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the Covid pandemic (described as “excess mortality”) between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021. WHO estimates that there were approximately 14.9 million excess Covid deaths during this period, however, it could range from 13.3 million to 16.6 million.

“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “WHO is committed to working with all countries to strengthen their health information systems to generate better data for better decisions and better outcomes.”

Excess Covid deaths around the world

Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.

Excess Covid deaths were categorised as direct (due to the disease) and indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society). Indirect Covid deaths are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened. The estimated number of excess deaths can also be influenced by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events like motor vehicle accidents.

WHO data breakdown:

  • Most excess Covid deaths (84%) are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe and the Americas.
  • Some 68% of excess Covid deaths are concentrated in just ten countries globally.
  • Middle-income countries account for 81% of the 14.9 million excess deaths (53% in lower-middle-income countries and 28% in upper-middle-income countries) over the 24 months.
  • High-income and low-income countries each account for 15% and 4%.

Understanding the impact of Covid

The new estimates include data on age and sex associated with Covid deaths. The global death toll was higher for men than for women (57% male, 43% female) and higher amongst older adults. The absolute count of the excess Covid deaths is affected by the population size. The number of excess deaths per 100,000 gives a more objective picture of the pandemic than reported COVID-19 mortality data.

“Measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understand the impact of the pandemic. Shifts in mortality trends provide decision-makers with information to guide policies to reduce mortality and effectively prevent future crises. Because of limited investments in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden,” said Dr Samira Asma, Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics and Delivery at WHO. “These new estimates use the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach.”

“Data is the foundation of our work every day to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable. We know where the data gaps are, and we must collectively intensify our support to countries so that every country has the capability to track outbreaks in real-time, ensure delivery of essential health services, and safeguard population health,” concluded Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here