The World Health Organization reported that approximately 14.9 million people died due to COVID-19-related causes, whether directly or indirectly related to the virus. This is more than double the official mortality rate, which is calculated to be over 6 million, the Associated Press reported.

Direct vs. indirect COVID-19 deaths: Direct COVID-19 deaths are when an individual's cause of death is caused by the virus itself.

  • Indirect deaths include deaths that happened because of the strain the pandemic put on health care systems.
  • This data takes into account instances when an individual died because they couldn’t receive medical help due to hospitals being full of COVID-19 patients, The Associated Press reported.
  • Even though the number takes indirect deaths into account, WHO stated that there were more direct COVID-19 deaths than indirect, according to BBC.

Excess mortality: The purpose of this research was to account for the “excess mortality” of the pandemic.

  • Excess mortality is “calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years.” In other words, the deaths that wouldn’t have taken place if it weren’t for COVID-19, according to WHO.

The breakdown: The death count compiles data from a 24 month period, 2020 and 2021.

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  • During those two years, 84% of excess COVID-19 deaths happened in southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.
  • The most deaths — 81% — occurred in middle-income countries, with high-income countries accounting for 15% and low-income countries with 4%, WHO reported.
  • The data also showed that more males died from COVID-19-related causes — 57% — compared to women, at 43%.

Why does the data matter? “Measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understand the impact of the pandemic. Shifts in mortality trends provide decision-makers information to guide policies to reduce mortality and effectively prevent future crises,” said Dr. Samira Asma, the assistant director-general for data, analytics and delivery for the WHO.

  • Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the U.N. health agency’s director-general, said the death count of nearly 15 million is “sobering,” and should prompt countries and governing bodies to invest more into their health care systems “to quell future health emergencies,” the Associated Press reported.

Details: WHO reported that some countries had higher levels of excess mortality rates than the countries had officially reported: Egypt (11.6 times more), India (9.9 times more) and Pakistan (8 times more), according to BBC News.

  • The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare called WHO’s methods of obtaining data “questionable” in a tweet on Thursday, stating that WHO should rely on “authentic” data.
  • “India strongly objects to the use of mathematical models for projecting excess mortality estimates in view of the availability of authentic data,” the ministry said.

Academics who helped compile the report admit that the estimates for the sub-Saharan African countries are more speculative because of the lack of reliable data, per BBC News.