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How does Canada count its deaths from COVID-19?

When a person dies, a doctor or coroner completes a death certificate. It must indicate all the causes of death, from the most immediate to the most circumstantial.

In the event that COVID-19 is considered a probable cause, theWHO invites doctors to enter it in the appropriate box. If the presence of the coronavirus has not been confirmed by a test, doctors must write the mention presumption of COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, some health authorities did not take into account deaths where the role of the new coronavirus was only presumed. The range of symptoms of COVID-19 was also unknown.

In a long-term care center, for example, an elder may have a fever, he is suspected to have COVID-19 and he dies, but next to him someone suddenly dies and, while this is ‘may be due to COVID-19, it goes unnoticed because we did not try to find outsays Dr. Prabhat Jha, professor of global health at the University of Toronto.

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Example of a death certificate where COVID-19 is considered a probable cause of death, even though the illness is not confirmed.

Photo: World Health Organization

Hospitals, on the other hand, have done a better count of COVID-19-related deaths, he believes. Hospital officers go through medical records, they spot cases where a diagnosis of COVID-19 has been missed and they add it to the record, explains the epidemiologist. They don’t change the diagnosis, but they do indicate if COVID-19 was present.

We do not want to miss any death related to COVID-19, even if we run the risk of counting a few too many.

Prabhat Jha, Professor of Global Health, University of Toronto

The data collected by health workers are then added to the Canadian Multiple Causes of Death File to be included in the statistics.

Regardless, Prabhat Jha believes the death toll from COVID-19 is underestimated. We will only really know in the future, when we do the necessary detective work., he said.

And in British Columbia?

Dr. Martin Lavoie, Assistant to the Chief Medical Officer of Health for British Columbia, explains that for a death to be considered as due to COVID-19, the infection must be present. It’s not a question of quantity, but a question of detection, so we confirmed that the person had the coronavirus and we confirmed that this person, because of the coronavirus, died.

Either way, the pandemic has highlighted the slowness of the Canadian health care system in counting deaths, according to the professor. After the SARS-1 epidemic, it was recommended that important public health problems be coordinated at the federal level as a matter of urgency, but we see that the provinces and the federal government have not succeeded and we are paying the price today, he regrets.

Look at what Portugal and New Zealand are doing: you can check their website to see how many deaths occurred the day before. In Canada, we don’t and it’s a flaw in our health system, he is indignant.

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