Why haven’t we ever had a running total of deaths from cancer, heart attacks or diabetes?
By Nazarul Islam
I have often wondered what the purpose remains of a country that shares its rising number of Covid related demises. At a time when we are frequently told by our relatively ‘betters’ in the media, and all those in the halls of government fame—to ‘follow the science’, of what could be more unscientific than a figure which, even when nobody is dying. This is something that looms above us as a warning that danger is ever present and nothing has improved. Should we bow down humbly, before its power, because there’s nothing else to be done?
Take the number of people who are unemployed. Here’s a figure (statistics) that has reached terrifying proportions without any sophistry or assistance from the behavioral science people. In fact, a lot of effort is expended on gently ‘massaging’ this number down from the actual amount to levels which are considered more palatable for public consumption.
However, let’s also imagine that we calculated the number of people who are unemployed by concocting a total of all the people who have been unemployed, at any time and for any duration, during the past 14 months?
Or let’s assume, since unemployment began, a running total of all the people who have been unemployed ever?
What function that number would serve?
Might it help prevent future unemployment? Might it better inform us of the skills and training required for our workforce? Might it be useful for analysis and reporting? I really have doubts that any civil servant in a western country, who proposed such an idea would be on fast route to an early retirement, as popular with politicians as those who do breathalyzer ‘duty’ outside public buildings.
Yet that’s exactly what we do with the running death total (and its near-twin the running case total). If the purpose of this number was to show us where we currently stand amidst the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, then surely a monthly or a weekly total would do the job better. We could then, as we do with the unemployment figure, compare this month to last (or this week to last) and judge which way we’re going. Are we moving steadily forwards? Are we tumbling hopelessly backwards? Do you get the idea?
So far…Why haven’t we ever had a running total of deaths from cancer, heart attacks or diabetes? If we’d started even a year ago, these numbers would be at impressive levels now. They’d give the Covid tally a run for its money. There would be opportunities for new betting markets based around causes of mortality, although spread bets might be distasteful for the contagious diseases.
For many of us ‘Worlds Meter’ is the central hub of running Covid death totals. At this very moment, it trumpets a formidable 659, 873, deaths for the United States, a daunting 129,782 for the United Kingdom.
However….what do these frightening numbers refer to? Well, they refer to the number of Covid-19 deaths. So what’s all the fuss about? The fuss is about what constitutes a Covid-19 death. And what is meant, exactly, by a Covid-19 death? Ah, now that’s where it starts to get a bit complicated.
On 16th April 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a document entitled “International Guidelines for Certification and Classification (Coding) of Covid-19 as Cause of Death”. This document provided strict rules for the registration of Covid-19 deaths, rules which were fundamentally different to those which were in place for the registration of deaths from other causes.
Obviously, some doctors had expressed concern about what they felt would give a misleading picture of causes of mortality.
These rules, they said, were unprecedented: they would lead to the over-reporting of deaths from Covid-19 and the under-reporting of deaths from other causes. Their warnings went unheeded and, for the most part, unreported. There was no place for prudence and common sense amid the frenzy and hysteria of the early days of the pandemic.
Since then however, more and more medical professionals have added their voices to this dissenting chorus. The latest is the official coroner for New Delhi who has expressed his discomfort at official reporting of Covid-19 deaths in this country: “I think numbers that are recorded as Covid deaths may be inaccurate and do not have a scientific basis”, he said earlier, in a tone full of sarcasm and helplessness.