Presently, the world average fatality rate for COVID-19 is about 7.04 per cent, which is lower than other types of coronavirus, like SARS (10%) and MERS (34%)
Toks David, Lagos
We all know the numbers by now. Or we think we do.
Chances are, depending on the country you’re from, you have a pretty good idea of the numbers you are told matters by health authorities – total number of cases, total number discharged, total deaths – all updated on a daily basis.
And while this is a good and basic heuristic for keeping track of how quickly the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is spreading through your country, it leaves out a more complete picture of the numbers that really matter in a pandemic – how many people are actually infected and what percentage of the infected die.
Given how limited testing is, it is unrealistic to know those numbers, so health authorities rely on the statistical next-best-thing: using the number of people that have been tested.
The truth is, all those numbers you see in your daily briefings – total cases, total discharged, total deaths – are actually reporting from those who have been tested. It does not indicate the actual number of cases or deaths from the virus.
A Little About Testing
Health authorities say testing is crucial and that the more testing that’s done the clearer it is to identify those who are infected, who can then get early intervention, which can lead to lower deaths if treatment is done on time – depending of course on how sound your healthcare system is. Another topic.
The United States has done more testing than any other country in the world – with over 4 million people tested. Impressive numbers, until you remember that the United States has a population of over 330 million. That doesn’t amount to much, compared to, say, Iceland which, with a population of about 350,000, has done more tests per 1,000 people (127.58 as at April 20, 2020) than the US (12.08) and every other country in the world – including Ireland (22.83), Spain (20.02), Italy (24.52), Israel (28.45), New Zealand (18.52) and Germany (20.94) – all high testing countries.
Nigeria, at 0.04 tests per 1,000 people, is doing badly in this regard, worse than African countries that are doing wide-scale testing to any significant degree, yet not by a lot, as the country is at least providing data compared with most of the continent and, more disturbingly, China, the initial source of the outbreak – which has not released any testing data.
The Number That Really Matters
All of that having been said, we now hit on a number you should be looking out for in all the reporting on the pandemic. Epidemiologists call it the Case Fatality Rate (or CFR for short). To put it simply: from all the confirmed cases from the testing done in a population, what percentage of people die?
This is the mortality risk of the disease. Presently, for COVID-19, the world average is about 7.04 per cent, which is lower than other coronaviruses, like SARS (10%) and MERS (34%).
With that number in mind, in terms of the current COVID-19 pandemic, France is doing much worse than any country in the world – with a 17.73% fatality – while Iceland, at 0.56%, is doing the best of any country in the world (incidentally also conducting the highest rate of testing as we’ve observed).
Nigeria has a lower fatality rate at 3.20% than the world average, Germany (3.35), the United States (5.46%), the United Kingdom (13.43%) and, on the continent, Algeria (13.95%).
But is doing worse than South Africa (1.67%) and Ghana (0.86).
So what do these numbers all amount to? Well, not much. But it gives a fuller, though not complete, picture of the pandemic and could perhaps determine the extent and nature of the responses governments should take when designing their interventions to, as they say, “flatten the curve”. The number at the end of the day that really matters.