Although we are only in the first half of 2020, covid-19 is on track to become one of the leading causes of death worldwide.
The pandemic has killed more than 280,000 people worldwide since January 9, when the first death was recorded in Wuhan City, China.
Experts warn, however, that the number may be well below the real number, due to the under-registration caused by the lack of evidence in many countries.
«The scenario we see now points to the possibility that covid-19 is among the leading causes of death of 2020, but we’ll only be safe in a few years, when we have the data,» epidemiologist The Voso, researcher at the Institute for Metrics and Health Assessment (IHME) at the University of Washington, USA, told BBC Mundo.
However, the official data available show the size of covid-19 in relation to other causes of death.
As you can see in the chart above, the number of new deaths recorded fluctuates each week due to the progress or decline of the epidemic in each country.
Still, at peak between mid-March and April, it surpassed the average weekly deaths caused in 2017 by diabetes, road accidents and diseases of the digestive system around the world, leaving behind problems such as tuberculosis, HIV and malaria.
Data in the region
The 2017 data are the most recent available in the Global Burden of Disease study, conducted by IHME, one of the most comprehensive produced on the subject.
The study counts deaths from 282 types of disease and injury in 195 countries and territories.
In a simplified calculation, it is seen that, in Latin America, diabetes killed an average of 3,515 people per week in 2017.
Lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis, killed 3,836 a week that year, on average, and 3,836 people died from dementia.
While in the week of April 20-27, 2020, Covid-19 killed 5,492 people in the region.
Sub-registration of figures and «indirect effect»
However, any comparison is hampered by the under-registration of covid-19 cases, a problem that occurs in all countries, to a greater or lesser extent.
In Brazil, for example, projections made by research groups at different universities say that the number of actual covid-19 cases can be 12 to 16 times higher than the official number.
In many countries, official death records only count those who die in hospitals or who have tested positive.
Deaths without an accurate diagnosis and deaths that occurred at home or nursing homes, for example, do not always enter statistics immediately.
In addition, data analysis experts warn of the «indirect or side effect» covid-19 can have on the most common causes of death, such as cancer.
«What we call the ‘indirect effect’ is the great impact this pandemic is having on other causes of death. It can be presented in a number of ways: people who are not seeking medical care, health systems that have exceeded their capacity, lack of access to treatments or reductions in funding,» Hannah Ritchie, head of research for the «Our World in Data» project at the University of Oxford, told BBC Mundo.
«For example, in many countries there are people who are not being treated for cardiovascular disease because of quarantine and the overload of health systems,» he says.
According to IHME’s Theo Vos, the indirect effect of the pandemic on other causes of death is still «modest,» according to data available in real time.
«If we think about the long term, the impact of the pandemic – such as the disruption of health services and many people entering poverty – will be reflected in mortality. Because that indirect effect of covid-19 will not be explicit in death certificates (only the main cause of death), we are trying to find ways to quantify it,» he concludes.