Health and Healthcare Systems

Global deaths: This is how COVID-19 compares to other diseases

A medical worker treats a patient suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Infanta Sofia University hospital in Madrid, Spain, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera - RC2GOG9GCIR2

Terrorism and natural disasters cause very few deaths compared with other causes. Image: REUTERS/Susana Vera

Jenna Ross
Author, Visual Capitalist
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COVID-19

  • Nearly 150,000 people die each day around the world, according to 2017 data.
  • Cardiovascular diseases are the biggest killer globally.
  • This is how COVID-19 compares to other diseases for number of deaths.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the media continues to rattle off statistics at full force.

However, without a frame of reference, numbers such as the death toll can be difficult to interpret. Mortalities attributed to the virus, for example, are often measured in the thousands of people per day globally—but is this number a little or a lot, relative to typical causes of death?

This graphic uses data from Our World in Data to provide context with the total number of worldwide daily deaths. It also outlines how many people who die each day from specific causes.

Worldwide deaths by cause

Nearly 150,000 people die per day worldwide, based on the latest comprehensive research published in 2017. Which diseases are the most deadly, and how many lives do they take per day?

Here’s how many people die each day on average, sorted by cause:

Cardiovascular diseases, or diseases of the heart and blood vessels, are the leading cause of death. However, their prominence is not reflected in our perceptions of death nor in the media.

While the death toll for HIV/AIDS peaked in 2004, it still affects many people today. The disease causes over 2,600 daily deaths on average.

Terrorism and natural disasters cause relatively very few deaths. That said, these numbers can vary from day to day—and year to year—depending on the severity of each individual instance.

Total daily deaths by country

On a national level, these statistics vary further. Below are the total deaths from all causes for selected countries, based on 2017 data.

China and India both see more than 25,000 total deaths per day, due to their large populations.

However, with 34.7 daily deaths per million people each day, Russia has the highest deaths proportional to population out of any of these countries.

Keeping Perspective

While these numbers help provide some context for the global scale of COVID-19 deaths, they do not offer a direct comparison.

Have you read?

The fact is that many of the aforementioned death rates are based on much larger and consistent sample sizes of data. On the flipside, since the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, daily confirmed deaths have fallen in a wide range between 272 and 10,520 per day—and there is no telling what could happen in the future.

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On top of this variance, data on confirmed COVID-19 deaths has other quirks. For example, testing rates for the virus may vary between jurisdictions, and there have also been disagreements between authorities on how deaths should even be tallied in the first place. This makes getting an accurate picture surprisingly complicated.

While it’s impossible to know the true death toll of COVID-19, it is clear that in some countries daily deaths have reached rates 50% or higher than the historical average for periods of time:

Time, and further analysis, will be required to determine a more accurate COVID-19 death count.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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