Global deaths from COVID-19 are likely two to three times higher than countries have officially recorded, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday.
The total loss of life from the start of the pandemic could be between 6 million to 8 million people, compared to the official figure of 3.4 million people, the WHO said.
The lower figure is likely a reflection of countries underreporting cases and death tolls.
According to the WHO, many countries still lack functioning civil registration and vital statistics systems with the capacity to provide accurate, complete and timely data on births, deaths and causes of death.
Countries also use different processes to test and report COVID-19 deaths, making comparisons difficult, the WHO said.
The WHO estimated the total global excess deaths attributable to COVID-19 in 2020, both directly and indirectly, amounts to at least 3 million.
Excess death is the difference in the total number of deaths in a crisis compared to those expected under normal conditions. COVID-19 excess mortality accounts for both the total number of deaths directly attributed to the virus as well as the indirect impact, such as disruption to essential health services or travel disruptions.
According to the WHO, COVID-19 excess mortality estimates range from 1.3 million to 1.5 million in the Americas, about 60 percent more than the reported 860,000 COVID-19 deaths, to between 1.1 million and 1.2 million in European countries, which is roughly double the official number.
In 2020, countries reported 1.8 million COVID-19-related deaths to the WHO.
To put that into perspective, the WHO said that number would rank COVID-19 within the top 10 of causes of death globally, with only ischemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections and neonatal conditions ranked higher.