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14.9 million excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021

14.9 million excess deaths associated with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021

Geneva, 5 May 2022 – New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic (described as “excess mortality”) between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021 was approximately 14.9 million (range 13.3 million to 16.6 million).

” These sobering statistics not only highlight the effects of the pandemic, but also the need for countries to invest more in resilient health systems to sustain vital health services during crisis,” stated Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus (WHO Director-General). “WHO will work with every country to improve their health information systems in order to make better decisions and achieve better results .”

Excess mortality is the difference in deaths that occurred and those that could be expected if there was no pandemic, based upon data from previous years.

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. You can also influence the estimated death toll by avoiding certain types of events like occupational injuries or motor-vehicle accidents.

Most of the excess deaths (84%) are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Some 68% of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 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-month period, with high-income and low-income countries each accounting for 15% and 4%, respectively.

The estimates for a 24-month period (2020 and 2021) include a breakdown of excess mortality by age and sex. They confirm that the global death toll was higher for men than for women (57% male, 43% female) and higher among older adults. Population size affects the absolute number of excess deaths. The number of excess deaths per 100,000 gives a more objective picture of the pandemic than reported COVID-19 mortality data.

“Improving our understanding of the effects of pandemics is essential. The shifts in mortality trends give decision-makers the information they need to inform policies that reduce mortality and prevent further crises. “The true extent of excessive mortality is often hidden because of the limited investment in data systems in many nations,” stated Dr Samira Asoma, WHO Assistant Director-General Data, Analytics and Delivery. These new estimates are based on the most current data available and were created using a solid methodology .”


“Data forms the basis of every day’s work to protect the planet, promote health and help the weak. “We know the gaps in data and must work together to increase our assistance to countries so every country can track epidemics in real time, deliver essential health services and protect the health of the population,” Dr Ibrahima Soce Fall Assistant Director General for Emergency Response.

The production of these estimates is a result of a global collaboration supported by the work of the Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 Mortality Assessment and country consultations.

This group, convened jointly by the WHO and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), consists of many of the world’s leading experts, who developed an innovative methodology to generate comparable mortality estimates even where data are incomplete or unavailable.

This methodology is invaluable many countries lack the capacity to provide reliable mortality surveillance , and so they do not have sufficient data to generate excess mortality. Countries can update or generate their estimates using the publicly accessible methodology.

” The United Nations is working in concert to provide an authoritative estimate of the death toll from this pandemic. This work is an important part of UN DESA’s ongoing collaboration with WHO and other partners to improve global mortality estimates,” said Mr Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Mr. Stefan Schweinfest from UN DESA’s Statistics Division stated that data deficiencies can make it hard to determine the real extent of crisis and have serious implications for human lives. This pandemic is a reminder that better coordination between data systems in countries is essential. International support should also be increased to build better systems for registration of vital events .

Note to editors:

The methods were developed by the Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 Mortality Assessment, co-chaired by Professor Debbie Bradshaw and Dr. Kevin McCormack with extensive support from Professor Jon Wakefield at the University of Washington. These methods are based on a statistical model that is derived from data in countries. The model can be used to calculate estimates for countries without adequate data. As more data becomes available, and after consultation with other countries, the methods and estimates can be revised.


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