Why Peru has the world’s highest coronavirus death toll
Review of Covid fatalities puts Latin American nation’s tally at more than 180,000
Peru’s official coronavirus death toll has almost tripled following a government review that has propelled the country to the top of the rankings for Covid deaths per capita.
According to a statement from the presidential palace, more than 180,000 people from the Latin American nation’s total population of around 33 million have died after contracting the virus - far outstripping previous data that put the tally at 69,342.
Prime Minister Violeta Bermudez said the figures had been revised following consultation with domestic and international experts, adding: “We think it is our duty to make public this updated information.”
The new official tally covers the period from March 2020 to 22 May of this year and has increased dramatically because “a significant number of deaths were not classified as caused by Covid-19” prior to the consultation, said Health Minister Oscar Ugarte.
Previously, only people who “had a positive diagnostic test” were classed as having died as a result of infection with the virus, but other assessment criteria is now also being included, he explained.
The Times reports that a panel “of experts from public and private health entities in Peru and the World Health Organization” that was convened in April corrected the “under-representation in the the number of deaths” by broadening the criteria to include “probable” cases with “an epidemiological link to a confirmed case”.
This inclusion of people thought to be infected with Covid who present “a clinical picture compatible with the disease” has significantly boosted the total death toll.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Hungary previously had the highest official number of Covid deaths per capita, at about 300 per 100,000 people. But Peru’s revised tally works out at more than 500 per 100,000.
The “updated numbers are in line with so-called excess death figures, which researchers have used in Peru and other countries to measure possible undercounting during the pandemic”, says The Guardian. This data “measures the total number of deaths over a period of time and compares it with the same period pre-pandemic”.
Peru has been “among the hardest-hit Latin America countries during the pandemic”, says Sky News, with “hospitals overcrowded with patients and demand for oxygen outstripping availability”. The country has reported around 1.9 million infections to date - a total that previously prompted scepticism among experts both in Peru and internationally about the country’s original claimed death toll.
The “startling” true tally is a “result of a cocktail of government errors and pre-existing problems, including poverty and a severely underfunded healthcare system”, says The Telegraph.
Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America back in March 2020, with then president Martin Vizcarra also closing the country’s borders. “Yet those efforts were soon undermined,” the paper continues.
The Health Ministry “gave up on contact tracing within the first month of the pandemic”, and the high number of Peruvians living in “cramped multigenerational housing” and without access to refrigeration has made self-isolation “impossible”, with many people forced to “flout lockdowns to buy food on a daily basis”.
Experts have also pointed to a healthcare system that “was underprepared and lacks sufficient funding” as another reason for the high death rate, the BBC says. Oxygen for seriously ill Covid patients has been in desperately short supply, and “the entire country has around 1,600 intensive care unit beds”, far fewer than many neighbouring nations, the broadcaster reports.
The health crisis has been exacerbated by delays in Peru’s Covid vaccination campaign. Oxford University tracking shows that just 3.93 million vaccines have administered so far - which equates to just over 8% of the population receiving at least one jab.