The actual number of direct and indirect fatalities due to the coronavirus pandemic may be two to three times higher than officially registered, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We are likely facing a significant undercount of total deaths directly and indirectly attributed to COVID-19,” said WHO’s assistant director-general in its data and analytics division, Samira Asma, in a virtual press briefing on Friday. “So I think safely about 6 to 8 million deaths could be an estimate on a cautionary note.”
Asma added that with the surging death toll in Latin America and in Asia, the death toll “would truly be two to three times higher.”
Presenting its annual World Health Statistics report, the WHO further estimated that total deaths due to the contagion in 2020 were at least 3 million or 1.2 million more than the 1.8 million official figure.
The UN body cited the lack of reliable systems to log deaths in many countries, noting that in numerous cases people had died from COVID-19 before they had been tested for the virus.
The WHO statistics also indicated that nearly 3.4 million people had died globally by May 20 as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, though the real figure could be substantially higher.
WHO data analyst William Msemburi further explained that the elevated estimates included both unreported COVID-19 fatalities as well as indirect deaths, such as patients not seeking healthcare for other conditions due to the lack of hospital capacity and imposed lockdown restrictions, among other factors.
Even in regions with relatively reliable reporting systems, undercounts were likely, according to the organization, which also estimated 1.1 to 1.2 million excess deaths in the European region during 2020 — double the 600,000 COVID-19 deaths officially registered so far.
In the Americas, it added, the number of excess deaths was 1.3 to 1.5 million throughout last year, 60 percent higher than the reported 900,000 COVID-19 fatalities in that region.