The impact of COVID-19 on health and care workers: a closer look at deaths

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Key messages

  • Between January 2020 and May 2021, surveillance data reported to WHO showed 3.45 million deaths due to COVID-19. Of these only 6643 deaths were identified as being in health and care workers (HCWs), but this figure significantly under-reports the burden of mortality world-wide in this group. From different analytical approaches, this working paper attempts to estimate the global number of deaths in HCWs due to COVID-19.

  • Based on the International Labour Organization’s estimated number of 135 million HCWs employed in human health and social activities and WHO’s surveillance data on all deaths reported to be due to COVID-19, mixed analytical approaches present a range between 80 000 to 180 000 deaths globally with a central population-based estimate of 115 500 deaths.

  • These figures, however, largely derive from the 3.45 million COVID-19-related deaths reported to WHO, a number that by itself is proving to be much lower than the actual death toll (60% or more than reported to WHO).

  • High-quality recording and reporting of infections and deaths among HCWs are fundamental measures to enable appropriate protective steps to be instigated and to support calls for significant investments in integrating occupational data in death certification and surveillance reporting.

  • In view of the mounting evidence that the number of deaths due to COVID-19 among HCWs is much greater than officially reported, the need for protection through vaccination cannot be overstated.

  • In countries where vaccination rates of HCWs remain low, tailored communication strategies must be designed and actively pursued to increase uptake and avert vaccination hesitancy.