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Covid-19: Egypt among top five countries underreporting coronavirus deaths

Reported Covid-19 deaths in Egypt are significantly lower than the actual figures, says World Bank report
Laboratory workers supervise the production of China's Sinovac vaccine, produced by the Egyptian company VACSERA, in the capital Cairo, on 1 September 2021 (AFP)

Egypt ranks fifth worldwide and first in the Middle East and North Africa in underreporting Covid-19 deaths, a new report by the World Bank has shown. 

The report cites findings of research comparing the Egyptian health ministry’s official report of Covid-19 fatalities with the total number of reported deaths from other causes over a certain period of time using a reliable metric.

The research paper, authored by Ariel Karlinsky from Israel’s Hebrew University and Dmitry Kobak from the Institute for Ophthalmic Research, University of Tübingen, Germany, tracks deaths in 103 countries in the first year of the global Covid-19 outbreak.

The number of daily reported virus cases has been rising in recent weeks, with more than 312,000 infections since the beginning of the outbreak in 2020, and 17,658 deaths.

However the World Bank report suggests a ratio of actual deaths from the disease to reported deaths of 13 to 1, which would give a real death toll of almost 230,000.

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Egypt, home to 100 million people, has so far only vaccinated seven million people, although the health ministry has said it aims to vaccinate two-thirds of the population by the end of 2021.

The report highlighted udnerinvestment in the health sector in Egypt and across the Middle East as a contributory factor in its ill-preparedness for the pandemic. It pointed out that "Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia spend less on building a national health system (as a share of total government spending) than their income peers".

The official numbers of Covid cases reported by Egypt’s health ministry have been widely contested.

In March last year, the government asked a correspondent for the Guardian newspaper to leave the country after she wrote a report suggesting that the number of coronavirus cases in the country was likely much higher than official statistics suggested. 

The article authored by Ruth Michaelson cited research by Canadian disease specialists estimating the actual number of Covid-19 cases in Egypt in early March 2020 was likely between 6,000 and 19,300 - at a time when Cairo’s official tally was only three cases.

The World Bank report also showed that Iran's undercount of Covid deaths was a ratio of 2.4 excess deaths to recorded deaths, suggesting a real Covid mortality of more than 295,000, compared to the official figure of 122,868.