Deaths per Day Worldwide

Facebook users shared a very out-of-date graph.

As a Statistical Ambassador, we help journalists with checking statistics.

This article extends a comment I gave to Reuters Fact Check.

The claim of “56 deaths per day”

A Reuters journalist asked for an explanation on why this graph can mislead:

Look at the caption. (Image: Facebook)

First, we note the caption:

Sources: CDC, WHO, The Lancet. Correct as of March 9, 2020.

By 9th March, COVID-19 was an emerging disease with under 4,000 reported deaths. According to the ECDC, reported COVID-19 deaths increased to over 400,000 by mid-June.

Our World in Data uses figures from the ECDC. (Image: Our World in Data)

On 26th June 2020, the total reported death toll works at around 2,700 deaths per day.

The graph compares COVID-19 to established diseases. Some of these diseases are seasonal: we should look at complete years.

Questionable sourcing

The other figures are questionable too. There is not an active count for many other diseases. The figures in the graph are precise, such as 3,014 deaths per day for Tuberculosis. Yet, these statistics are estimates.

There are three sources given. (Image: Star Wars: The Clone Wars)

A Tuberculosis death toll of around 3,000 per day would be 1.1m deaths in a year.

The graph gives three sources:

  • The World Health Organisation: The WHO estimated 1.5m people died from TB in 2018 (1.4m — 1.6m).
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The CDC reports on the United States. Their website directs people to the WHO for global Tuberculosis statistics.
  • The Lancet: The Lancet is a medical journal. There were a series of papers on Tuberculosis published in 2019. Kamila Romanowski and others wrote a paper which cited an earlier WHO estimate.

It remains unclear where these figures come from. This graph should reflect the uncertainty over death estimates.

This blog looks at the use of statistics in Britain and beyond. It is written by RSS Statistical Ambassador and Chartered Statistician @anthonybmasters.

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