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WHO nearly triples global COVID-19 deaths after factoring in 'deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19'

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NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization nearly tripled the global COVID-19 mortality figure on Thursday after taking into consideration "indirect" deaths allegedly related to the pandemic.

What happened?

The WHO previously reported 5.4 million COVID deaths in 2020 and 2021. But the organization revised that number to 14.9 million after adding what they claimed are the estimated number of "excess mortality" deaths.

That means the WHO believes there were 9.5 million more deaths related to pandemic in 2020 and 2021 than previously believed.

Excess mortality, according to the WHO, "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."

For example, people who died because they were unable to receive proper hospital care during the height of the pandemic when hospitals were overcrowded is considered an excess fatality.

More from the WHO:

Excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society). Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries.

The excess deaths were concentrated in Europe, southeast Asia, and the Americas, while the majority were male (57%) and older adults.

However, the actual number of deaths will probably never be known. After all, many health agencies still do not distinguish between "deaths with COVID" — meaning people who die while having a COVID infection — and "deaths from COVID," those that are caused directly by the virus.

Anything else?

One country has already disputed the WHO's numbers.

India reported just over 480,000 COVID deaths in 2020 and 2021, but the WHO estimates the country had 4.74 million excess deaths. In response, India is questioning the WHO's methodology.

"Throughout the process of dialogue, engagement and communication with WHO, WHO has projected different excess mortality figures for India citing multiple models, which itself raises questions on the validity and robustness of the models used," the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said in a statement. "A modeling approach which provides mortality estimates on the basis of another estimate, while totally disregarding the actual data available within the Country exhibits lack of academic rigour."

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