In most countries, excess deaths due to COVID-19 greater than leading causes of death: World Bank analyst

Pandemic hit countries even with a younger population where a milder impact was earlier assumed

By Taran Deol
Published: Thursday 05 May 2022
In most countries, excess COVID-19 deaths greater than leading causes of death: World Bank analyst Photo: iStock

The World Health Organization (WHO) is set to release its report on the global COVID-19 toll from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021 today. But another study claimed that deaths from novel coronavirus infection exceeded the leading causes of death in many countries.

Some 31 per cent countries recorded an excess pandemic death toll greater than the leading cause of death in 2019, according to an analysis by Philip Schellekens, senior advisor at the World Bank Group, published May 4, 2022.

The COVID-19 toll crossed the second-leading cause of death in 2019 in 32 per cent countries, the third-biggest cause of death in 8 per cent countries and the fourth-leading cause in 30 per cent countries. 

Schellekens compared excess deaths due to COVID-19, calculated by The Economist, with figures of what the leading cause of death was in each country in 2019. 

There were some countries such as Australia which recorded a negative excess deaths associated with COVID-19.

In India, the leading cause of deaths in 2019 was ischemic heart disease. However, pandemic-related excess mortality took overtook from 2020. In 2019, ischemic heart disease was responsible for 16.2 per cent of total deaths. 

Such a trend has been recorded across the world, most notably in Latin America and parts of Africa. COVID-19 related excess deaths crossed the leading cause of death in every country in these two regions, except three in Latin America and 13 in Africa. 

In Africa, the excess death ratio exceeded the fifth-leading cause of death (lower respiratory infections) in Uruguay, the second-leading cause of death (stroke) in Venezuela and the second-leading cause of death (alzheimer's disease and other dementias) in French Guiana.

In Africa, Mauritania, Libya, Niger, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Gabon, Congo, Angola and Namibia, excess COVID-19 associated deaths crossed the leading cause of death in 2019, which range from malaria, neonatal disorders, HIV / AIDS, diarrheal diseases and ischemic heart disease. 

Only in Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Lesotho did the excess death not cross the top three leading causes of death.

The pandemic hit countries even with a younger population where a milder impact was earlier assumed, the findings also indicated. Schellekens said: The excess death estimates suggested that these advantages may have been offset by other factors, which must be a combination of higher infection prevalence, higher age-adjusted infection fatality rates, greater measurement challenges and/or a greater contribution from indirect deaths. 

The Government of India has been reportedly trying to stall the release of the WHO report and “asked for it to be pushed by a decade”, according to the media. The United Nations health agency had told news outlets last month that the estimated toll of the COVID-19 pandemic in India is four million — eight times the official figure released by the country. 

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