1. Epidemiology and Global Health
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Tracking excess mortality across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic with the World Mortality Dataset

  1. Ariel Karlinsky  Is a corresponding author
  2. Dmitry Kobak  Is a corresponding author
  1. Hebrew University, Israel
  2. University of Tübingen, Germany
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Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e69336 doi: 10.7554/eLife.69336

Abstract

Comparing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic between countries or across time is difficult because the reported numbers of cases and deaths can be strongly affected by testing capacity and reporting policy. Excess mortality, defined as the increase in all-cause mortality relative to the expected mortality, is widely considered as a more objective indicator of the COVID-19 death toll. However, there has been no global, frequently-updated repository of the all-cause mortality data across countries. To fill this gap, we have collected weekly, monthly, or quarterly all-cause mortality data from 94 countries and territories, openly available as the regularly-updated World Mortality Dataset. We used this dataset to compute the excess mortality in each country during the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that in several worst-affected countries (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Mexico) the excess mortality was above 50% of the expected annual mortality. At the same time, in several other countries (Australia, New Zealand) mortality during the pandemic was below the usual level, presumably due to social distancing measures decreasing the non-COVID infectious mortality. Furthermore, we found that while many countries have been reporting the COVID-19 deaths very accurately, some countries have been substantially underreporting their COVID-19 deaths (e.g. Nicaragua, Russia, Uzbekistan), sometimes by two orders of magnitude (Tajikistan). Our results highlight the importance of open and rapid all-cause mortality reporting for pandemic monitoring.

Data availability

Full data is publicly available at: https://github.com/akarlinsky/world_mortality

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Ariel Karlinsky

    Economics, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
    For correspondence
    ariel.karlinsky@mail.huji.ac.il
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0966-5837
  2. Dmitry Kobak

    Institute for Ophthalmic Research, University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
    For correspondence
    dmitry.kobak@uni-tuebingen.de
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5639-7209

Funding

DK was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (BE5601/4-1 and the Cluster of Excellence ``Machine Learning --- New Perspectives for Science', EXC 2064, project number 390727645), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (FKZ 01GQ1601 and 01IS18039A) and the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U19MH114830. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Marc Lipsitch, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: April 13, 2021
  2. Accepted: June 29, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: June 30, 2021 (version 1)
  4. Accepted Manuscript updated: July 7, 2021 (version 2)
  5. Version of Record published: August 3, 2021 (version 3)

Copyright

© 2021, Karlinsky & Kobak

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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