Thursday, May 12, 2022

Does the USA have the highest COVID death toll? Well, that depends...

As the USA passes the landmark statistic of 1 million deaths from COVID-19, it's important to remember that these are just the "official" deaths. By this metric, the USA has the highest death toll in the world.

But if we look at how many extra deaths are recorded in each country compared to the number that would be expected to die in an average year, what the World Health Organization (WHO) refers to as "excess deaths" resulting from the COVID pandemic, the USA's situation does not look quite so bad. Bad, sure, but not quite as bad as some other countries. 

According to WHO, excess deaths that can be attributed directly and indirectly to COVID-19 are probably in the region of $14.9 million to the end of 2021, compared to the officially reported total 5.4 million. Of this number, India has contributed the biggest proportion, with 4.7 million excess deaths, followed by Russia (1.1 million), Indonesia (1 million) and the USA (930,000). So, yeah, bad, but not the worst. 

Another way of looking at it is in terms of excess deaths per 100,000 population. On a per capita basis, the USA looks even better (still really bad, but better, relatively speaking). The worst performers per capita are Peru (437 per 100,000), Russia (367), South Africa (200), India (171), Brazil (160), Turkey (156), and USA (140). For reference, the global average was 96 excess deaths per 100,000.

Ah, statistics, statistics... Bear in mind that such statistics are based on all sorts of assumptions, and are notoriously difficult to compile and to make comparable between different countries with different health systems and record-keeping reliability.

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