COVID-19 death toll four times higher in lower-income countries than rich ones

Close-up portrait of small innocent girl looking at camera and she covering her face with pollution mask for protection against COVID-19.

Three million people have died since the Omicron variant emerged, shattering perceptions that the pandemic is over according to a report published by Oxfam on behalf of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.

According to the report the COVID-19 death toll has been four times higher in lower-income countries than in rich ones.

While the pandemic has been devastating for rich countries like Australia, the world’s poorest countries have been hardest hit, with women and children bearing a disproportionate burden. Lack of testing and reporting means that very large numbers of deaths due to COVID-19 go unreported, especially in the poorest countries.

Modelling using measures of excess deaths estimates that 19.6 million people have died because of COVID-19, over three times the official death toll. Based on this analysis, Oxfam calculated that for every death in a high-income country, an estimated four other people have died in a low or lower-middle income country. On a per capita basis, deaths in low and lower middle-income countries are 31% higher than high income countries.

Oxfam also calculated that three million COVID-19 deaths have occurred in the three months since the Omicron variant emerged. The figure shatters perceptions that Omicron’s milder illness means the pandemic is coming to an end.

While most cases will be mild, the sheer number of cases means that numbers of deaths remain high.

“After two years, we all want this pandemic to be over, but politicians in rich countries are exploiting that fatigue to ignore the devastating impact of COVID-19 that continues to this day,” Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager said.

“While incredibly effective vaccines provided hope, rich countries derailed the global vaccine rollout with nationalism, greed, and self-interest. Suggestions that we are entering a ‘post-COVID era’ ignore the continuing deaths in primarily lower-income countries that could be prevented by vaccines.”

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