May 18, 2022 9:38 pm

Satellites and models estimate twice as many deaths from COVID-19

Laura Faz Meteored Chile 6 min
COVID-19 models
After two years of the pandemic, studies conclude that officially registered deaths are below those estimated by models.

In recent studies, demographers and other specialists use different scientific methods to estimate How many victims has COVID-19 left?, as is the case of the modeling or the statistical and geospatial analysis through satellite images of cemeteries. In addition, they make comparisons with previous pandemics and take into account strong indicators that allow them to reach an important conclusion: official figures are well below estimates. And this is not encouraging at all.

According to official data, 5.5 million deaths have been reached globally, but the models differ greatly: the estimated global excess of deaths is even four times that figure.

The records of excess mortality, a metric that allows comparing all registered deaths with those expected to occur, show a number greater than that reported by the authorities of more than 100 countries, which present unreliable statistics on expected or actual deaths. Still, it’s still a challenge to get these calculations: eIt is complex to count the excess mortality figures for each country given that changes in the structure of the population are sometimes not taken into account.

The goal of this search is to recognize the true cost of the human tragedy of COVID-19 in order to counter misleading claims prompted by official figures—such as the China’s tally of just under 5,000 deaths by coronavirus—, expose in a statement from the journal Nature.

Metrics COVID-19 Influenza 2009 (H1N1) 1968 flu (H3N2) Influenza 1957–59 (H2N2) Influenza 1918–20 (H1N1)
Per capita excess mortality rate (estimate) 0.15–0.28% 0.005% 0.03% 0.04% 1%
Global excess deaths (estimate) adjusted for 2020 population 12 million–22 million 0.4 million 2.2 million 3.1 million 75 million
Median age at death (years; United States and Europe only) 73-79 37 62 65 27
Comparison of pandemics. Sources: Simonsen et al; COVID-19 estimates: model of The Economist (until January 2022); Data on age at death: US CDC, UKHSA.

The researchers analyze biases introduced by obtaining excess mortality. For example, in aging populations, it is not an optimal estimator since compares deaths during the pandemic with the average recorded over the previous five years. Therefore, to this indirect measure apply corrections to obtain more consistent estimates.

Models that estimate alarming figures

To reduce uncertainty about the global estimate of pandemic deaths, machine-learning computer models are used (machine learning) that extrapolate estimates from available data. For example, the London magazine The Economist employs a machine learning approach to produce an estimate of 12 million to 22 million excess deaths, that is, between 2 and 4 times the official number of victims of the pandemic to the present. On the other hand, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, Washington, offers daily updates of their modeled results, as well as projections of the rate of increase.

Given the lack of estimates of excess deaths in many countries such as India, China and many in Africa, error in the figures obtained is more likely. To do this, some researchers model the number of deaths in these countries significant population.

The model used by The Economist to track the COVID-19 pandemic identifies more than 100 national indicators. These features include the official deaths, the COVID-19 testing scale and the results of the antibody surveys, but also geographic latitude, the degree of Internet censorship and the number of years a country has been a democracy, they argue in the statement. This effort has made it possible fill the information gap on the global pandemic.

Satellite images also made available

The British public health researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Mervat Alhaffar, focused on a much more direct method: count graves. With the use of satellite images From 11 cemeteries in a Yemen province, weekly burials increased by up to 230% between April and September 2020.

cemetery yemen
An aerial view of a cemetery in Yemen, where dozens of new graves appeared in May 2020 as the coronavirus began to spread in that region. Credit: AP

Similarly, a team of researchers from LSHTM collected data on Somalia through satellite images. The burial counting technique allowed them to get excess deaths in the city studied 3,200 to 11,800 between January and September 2020.

Despite the technology currently available, there are still deficiencies that lead to misinformation about the pandemic in many countries. The true number of deaths from COVID-19 will continue to be discussed.

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