At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Strengthening a Reliable Evidence Base for Monitoring the COVID-19 and Other Disasters

Dmitri A. Jdanov, Vladimir M. Shkolnikov, Ainhoa Alustiza Galarza, Domantas Jasilionis, Inna Danilova, Karolin Kubisch

Detailed Description

In recent decades, we witnessed many short-term mortality outbreaks related to influenza, winter cold, heat waves, and natural or made-man disasters, with significant impacts on the annual level of mortality. Despite numerous warning signs related to the recent epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed lacking progress in establishing efficient international and national monitoring and statistical systems for providing timely, accurate, and comparable data across time and space. Evaluating the human costs of various disasters has always been an important task for demography and epidemiology. However, the emergence of new health threats calls for new studies and methodological innovations to provide better and more complete evidence than we currently have.

The available data on confirmed cases and deaths from COVID-19 published daily is hardly comparable. The data depend on testing coverage and coding practices, and these vary significantly across countries, territories, and time. Whereas some countries tend to attribute to COVID-19 all or nearly all deaths in case of a virus-infected deceased, others tend to register other causes of death and do so even if the deceased was COVID-19-infected. In this project, we use a more reliable approach to quantify the mortality burden of the COVID-19 pandemic by estimating weekly excess deaths. Monitoring weekly all-cause deaths provides unique opportunities to ensure objective, comparable, and timely evidence across countries on the impact of a pandemic. Moreover, short-term mortality fluctuations (STMF) became an important resource for further mortality improvements in low-mortality countries, and being able to look at them is becoming increasingly important.

This project aims to (i) include the weekly and monthly death counts and rates in the Human Mortality Database (HMD) for as many HMD countries as possible (STMF data series), (ii) develop methodological approaches for the precise estimation of mortality excess, and (iii) extend this methodological approach for developing countries. The first preliminary version of the STMF dataset was launched in May 2020. In the short term, the project team aims to ensure timely access to the most recent weekly mortality data for researchers, media, and policy makers alike. In the long term, the STMF will become an integral and permanently updated section of the core Human Mortality Database.

The developing methodology for STMF monitoring aims to estimate mortality excess by comparing the observed weekly deaths to the expected values based on past years. This is an ultimate estimate of human losses that takes into account not only direct deaths from COVID-19 but also all deaths from the pandemic, including deaths due to complications after COVID-19, delayed medical treatment, and hidden COVID-19 deaths not confirmed by tests. This way, the planned outcomes of the project will contribute to provide better information to society and policy-makers about the real scale and course of pandemics.

Research Keywords:

Aging, Mortality and Longevity, Data and Surveys

Region keywords:



Németh, L.; Jdanov, D. A.; Shkolnikov, V. M.:
PLoS One 16:2, e0246663–e0246663. (2021)    
Danilova, I. A.:
Demographic Review 7:1, 6–26. (2020)    
Leon, D. A.; Jarvis, C. I.; Johnson, A. M.; Smeeth, L.; Shkolnikov, V. M.:
medRxiv preprints. unpublished. (2020)    
Leon, D. A.; Shkolnikov, V. M.; Smeeth, L.; Magnus, P.; Pechholdová, M.; Jarvis, C. I.:
The Lancet 395:10234, e81–e81. (2020)
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.