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Analysis: Global COVID-19 deaths actually double official estimates

Analysis: Global COVID-19 deaths actually double official estimates
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Global coronavirus deaths are severely undercounted, and the disease has actually killed about 6.9 million people, a new analysis suggests.

The estimate from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is more than double what official numbers show.

The study found that in the United States, a little more than 905,000 people have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That is almost 40 percent higher than the 561,594 deaths estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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That number would put the U.S. death toll well over that from the 1918 flu pandemic, which was estimated to kill about 675,00 Americans.

"As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse,” Chris Murray, IHME’s director, said in a statement. “Understanding the true number of COVID-19 deaths not only helps us appreciate the magnitude of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to policymakers developing response and recovery plans.”

According to the analysis, many deaths from COVID-19 go undercounted because countries only report deaths that occur in hospitals or in patients with a confirmed infection. In many places, weak health reporting systems and limited access to health care magnify the challenge.

Testing capacity also varies across countries and within countries over time, which means that the reported COVID-19 deaths as a proportion of all deaths due to COVID-19 also vary.

The analysis found that the largest number of unreported deaths occurred in countries that have had the largest epidemics to date: the U.S., India, Mexico and Brazil. 

However, some countries with relatively smaller epidemics saw a large increase in the death rate when accounting for unreported death, like Egypt. Egypt's official death toll is 13,529, but the analysis estimated more than 170,000 deaths.

This analysis only includes deaths caused directly because of the coronavirus, not those caused by the pandemic’s disruption to health care systems and communities.