COVID death toll four times higher in poorer countries than rich countries

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- 3m deaths since emergence of Omicron

- 4 children a minute lose a parent or caregiver to COVID

- UK delivered just a third of the vaccines it promised poor countries

Four times as many people have died due to COVID-19 in lower-income countries than in rich countries, according to a new report published today by Oxfam on behalf of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, ahead of the two year anniversary of the declaration of the global pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

The report, Pandemic of Greed, examines the true impact of COVID-19 and exposes the myths used to excuse the lack of action to end the monopolies which are preventing everyone, everywhere having access to vaccines and treatments.

Lack of testing and reporting means that millions 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. Oxfam calculates that for every death in a high-income country, an estimated four people have died in a low or lower-middle income country. Deaths per capita in low and lower middle-income countries are almost a third higher than high income countries.

More than three million COVID-19 deaths have occurred in the three months since the Omicron variant emerged, contrary to perceptions that Omicron’s milder illness means the pandemic is over. While most cases will be mild, the sheer number of cases means that the number of deaths remain high, especially amongst the unvaccinated.

The report also highlights the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and children:

  • Every minute, four children around the world have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. In India alone, more than two million children lost a caregiver.
  • Women have been 1.4 times more likely to drop out of the labour force than men during the pandemic and took on three times more hours of unpaid care work than men.

However, not everyone has lost out due to the pandemic. Of the new billionaires created every 26 hours during the pandemic, 40 have made their billions profiting from vaccines, treatments, tests, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

While vaccines provide hope of an end to the pandemic, only rich countries have received enough doses to vaccinate all their citizens and they have failed to fulfil their promised vaccine donations to the poorest countries. Less than half of 1.8 billion doses pledged by G7 leaders have been delivered. The UK has delivered just a third of the doses it promised – second lowest amongst the G7 countries.

Oxfam is part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of nearly 100 organisations, campaigning for vaccine equity through support for a waiver of intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and by making pharmaceutical companies share their science and knowhow with qualified producers in developing countries, so they are able to make their own doses.

The UK, along with the European Union, is blocking the proposal for an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Talks on the waiver will continue at the WTO meeting on 9 – 10 March.

Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said:

“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.

“While incredibly effective vaccines provide 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 primarily in lower-income countries that could be prevented by vaccines.”

Maaza Seyoum, Global South Convenor for the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said:

“Rich countries and corporations have tied up the global response to COVID-19 for their own benefit, leaving the global south to bear the brunt of this pandemic.

“As billions of people are still unable to access vaccines, some have the audacity to claim that the pandemic is over. That is an utter fallacy. Third and fourth doses in rich countries alone cannot erase the ever-rising death toll in lower-income countries.

“The charity approach to global vaccination has failed. Global south countries can and must manufacture vaccines and treatments for themselves - and they must maintain control of their own supplies. Rich countries must waive intellectual property rules on COVID-19 technologies and force big pharma to share the recipes.”

Gregg Gonsalves, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University, said:

“While Omicron tends to lead to a milder illness in many, the variant’s higher transmissibility means it can cut a deadly swath through countries, particularly among the unvaccinated. We may all be done with the coronavirus, but the coronavirus is not done with all of us.

“There must be a better way out of the suffering of the past two years, a way where everyone had access to vaccines, and no one was disposable. Public health decisions must be based on comprehensive evidence, not political agendas.

“The ‘post-COVID’ narrative emerging from rich countries will only worsen the complacency that has plagued the global fight against COVID-19. The global south understandably wants to take things into their own hands – and rich countries should let them.”


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Notes to editors:

  • Link to the full report here:
  • The Economist estimates that 19.6 million people have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • The official COVID-19 death toll stands at 5.9million people (Our World in Data, as of 20 February 2022)
  • On the figures regarding children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID - the estimates shown are minimums for the numbers of children affected by COVID-19 and excess deaths during the pandemic, following the statistical methodology for global extrapolations in Hillis, Unwin, Chen et al, "Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and deaths of caregivers: a modelling study", The Lancet, 2021 and "Children: The Hidden Pandemic 2021. A joint report of COVID-19 associated orphanhood and a strategy for action."

Between 23 January 2020 and 14 February 2022 (most recent available data) 4,740,309 children have been affected by orphanhood globally. In India the figure stands at 2,127,975.

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