June 7, 2020, New Delhi: Did you know that hunger has claimed several times more lives around the world this year than the much-dreaded coronavirus has done?
According to official statistics from the United Nations’ World Food Program as of June 7, 2020, about 12 times more people have died due to hunger worldwide than from Covid-19 this year.
It sounds incredible, and it is so. From the start of January up until June 7, about 48.4 lakh people have perished due to lack of food as against 4 lakh people who have succumbed to the coronavirus disease.
Let’s turn to some stats about fatalities from road accidents this year, and it’s bound to surprise you even more. We know that almost the entire world spent a large chunk of the first 5 months of 2020 under strict stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. Yet, almost 2 lakh more people have died from outdoor traffic-related accidents than from the coronavirus disease during this period. Road accident deaths this year currently stand at 5.84 lakh as against 4 lakh fatalities from Covid-19.
We are worried that the respiratory disease has gobbled up 4 lakh lives this year, literally becoming a monster man-eater. Yet, suicides have claimed many more lives than Covid has done since January. So far this year, the global coronavirus death toll has fallen behind the suicide death count by at least 64,000 lives – and the gap could be widening.
Time to light a match. How many of us are aware that 5 times more people have died from smoking-related issues this year than from Covid-19? That’s 5 times, no less. About 21.64 lakh smokers have lost their lives due to complications from smoking as against 4 lakh Covid-19 deaths.
An overdose of booze, meanwhile, has led to two-and-a-half times more deaths around the world this year than from Covid-19. Fatal complications from excessive drinking have taken 10.83 lakh lives globally as against the coronavirus toll of 4 lakh.
COVID NOWHERE NEAR CANCER
When it comes to what’s killing humans at a faster rate than the coronavirus, cancer beats them all. The various types of cancer put together, have claimed almost 9 times more lives than the coronavirus disease has done. About 35.56 lakh people worldwide have died from some form of cancer over the past 5 months. Again, that’s way higher than the 4 lakh from Covid deaths.
To cut a long story short, here’s a quick check-list of several other modes of death from around the world that have claimed more lives than Covid-19 this year:
Deaths from communicable diseases: 56.22 lakh
Deaths of children under 5 years of age: 32.92 lakh
Deaths caused by AIDS: 7.28 lakh
Deaths caused by malaria: 4.24 lakh
Total deaths this year (excluding Covid-19): 250 lakh
WHAT ABOUT INFECTIONS, THEN?
The point is, even though a devastating pandemic has gripped the world for almost half a year, the coronavirus is clearly not the main cause of the deaths to have taken place. There are other ailments and phenomena that have claimed many more lives that the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen has done.
Many would argue that to gauge the actual extent of the damage done by the pandemic, one has to focus not on the death toll, but on the total number of people infected.
Let’s leave the fatality numbers aside and try to make sense of the number of Covid ‘cases’ or infections around the world.
Almost six months on, it is no secret that we are clueless about how many people have actually been infected. The only tangible numbers that we have are the official figures of test results released by the governments of the affected countries. We suspect that those numbers are downplayed or conservative estimates. But government data is all that we have at our disposal as of now.
Going by that yardstick, globally a total of around 70 lakh people have been officially infected by the coronavirus since January.
So, let’s do the math to figure out what proportion of the global population has been infected. The current world population is around 7.8 billion or 780 crore, according to data released by international monitors. In terms of percentage, 70 lakh infected people in a population pool of 780 crore comes to 0.09%.
A HONG KONG FULL OF COVID PATIENTS!
There’s another interesting way of making sense of how out-of-control or how under-control the figure of 70 lakh infected people is. Take the example of Hong Kong, for instance. The Chinese-administered city-state has a population of around 74 lakh people.
Now, imagine if all the world’s coronavirus-infected people were to be hypothetically brought together and kept in a confined space, then they would roughly occupy no more than the geographical space of the city-state of Hong Kong.
This oversimplified example helps us visualise the true global reach or penetration of the disease; the extent of the physical spread of the virus. While many of us are led to assume that the virus has almost engulfed human civilisation, it is certainly not the case, as of now. Only a very small fraction of the world population has been infected so far – small in terms of both percentage (0.09%) and physicality (the Hong Kong example).
IT’S NOT DOOMSDAY YET
Yes, the coronavirus is spreading wildly. Yes, it’s claiming innocent lives and we don’t have a cure for the disease yet. But it’s not all gloom and doom. Covid-19 hasn’t brought forth doomsday the way pulsating newsbreaks on your television and scary newspaper headlines would have you believe.
Flashback to 1918, when the so-called Spanish Flu ravaged the world. By conservative estimates, that influenza pandemic is believed to have killed at least 50 million people or 500 lakh people worldwide in just a few years’ time.
In stark contrast, Covid has claimed no more than 4 lakh lives in almost half a year. And the coronavirus has been able to infect only 0.09% of the global population.
These numbers remind us of an old adage: while we do need to prepare for the worst, we can hope for the best. It’s time to be proactive, not reactive.
(Data compiled from the official websites of United Nations, UNAIDS, Who Health Organization, World Food Program, US Census Bureau, UNICEF, and Worldometer as of June 7, 2020).
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