Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Early reports suggest the fatality rate from COVID-19 varies greatly across countries, but non-random testing and incomplete vital registration systems render it impossible to directly estimate the infection fatality rate (IFR) in many low- and middle-income countries. To fill this gap, we estimate the adjustments required to extrapolate estimates of the IFR from high- to lower-income regions. Accounting for differences in the distribution of age, sex, and relevant comorbidities yields substantial differences in the predicted IFR across 21 world regions, ranging from 0.11% in Western Sub-Saharan Africa to 1.07% for High Income Asia Pacific. However, these predictions must be treated as lower bounds, as they are grounded in fatality rates from countries with advanced health systems. In order to adjust for health system capacity, we incorporate regional differences in the relative odds of infection fatality from childhood influenza. This adjustment greatly diminishes, but does not entirely erase, the demography-based advantage predicted in the lowest income settings, with regional estimates of the predicted COVID-19 IFR ranging from 0.43% in Western Sub-Saharan Africa to 1.83% for Eastern Europe.

The code for this paper is available for download here.

For any media requests, please contact Jeremy Gaines at jgaines@cgdev.org.

Rights & Permissions

You may use and disseminate CGD’s publications under these conditions.