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

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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  1. Ariel Karlinsky
  2. Dmitry Kobak
(2021)
Tracking excess mortality across countries during the COVID-19 pandemic with the World Mortality Dataset
eLife 10:e69336.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.69336

Further reading

    1. Epidemiology and Global Health
    2. Medicine
    3. Microbiology and Infectious Disease
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    Research Article Updated

    Background:

    In contrast to most of the world, the cervical cancer screening programme continued in Denmark throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined the cervical cancer screening participation during the pandemic in Denmark.

    Methods:

    We included all women aged 23–64 y old invited to participate in cervical cancer screening from 2015 to 2021 as registered in the Cervical Cancer Screening Database combined with population-wide registries. Using a generalised linear model, we estimated prevalence ratios (PRs) and 95% CIs of cervical cancer screening participation within 90, 180, and 365 d since invitation during the pandemic in comparison with the previous years adjusting for age, year, and month of invitation.

    Results:

    Altogether, 2,220,000 invited women (in 1,466,353 individuals) were included in the study. Before the pandemic, 36% of invited women participated in screening within 90 d, 54% participated within 180 d, and 65% participated within 365 d. At the start of the pandemic, participation in cervical cancer screening within 90 d was lower (pre-lockdown PR = 0.58; 95% CI: 0.56–0.59 and first lockdown PR = 0.76; 95% CI: 0.75–0.77) compared with the previous years. A reduction in participation within 180 d was also seen during pre-lockdown (PR = 0.89; 95% CI: 0.88–0.90) and first lockdown (PR = 0.92; 95% CI: 0.91–0.93). Allowing for 365 d to participation, only a slight reduction (3%) in participation was seen with slightly lower participation in some groups (immigrants, low education, and low income).

    Conclusions:

    The overall participation in cervical cancer screening was reduced during the early phase of the pandemic. However, the decline almost diminished with longer follow-up time.

    Funding:

    The study was funded by the Danish Cancer Society Scientific Committee (grant number R321-A17417) and the Danish regions.