Mexico beats the odds: Are younger people likely to die of COVID-19 or statistics are the result of under-recording?

It seems like in Mexico younger people and adults are dying at a higher rate than elders, in contrasts with Europe

Mexico beats the odds: Are younger people likely to die of COVID-19 or statistics are the result of under-recording?
The Health Ministry has the necessary information and power to analyze these numbers which are quite atypical in the international context - Photo: File Photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 24/05/2020 17:38 Raúl Rojas Mexico City Actualizada 17:56
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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become clear that the virus affects older people the most, as well as those who suffer from chronic illnesses, according to statistics in Asia and Europe
 
When comparing the situation in Italy, the Netherlands, and Germany, you notice the curves are almost identical: the majority of deaths took place among people between 80 and 89 years old. Under the age of 60, the deaths are less than 10% in the three countries. However, Mexico’s curve tells another story: on average, fatal victims are 59 years old; therefore, it seems like in Mexico younger people and adults are dying at a higher rate than elders, in contrast with Europe. 
 
There are different interpretations to explain the difference in death statistics in Mexico and other countries. In Mexico, the population is affected by illnesses such as diabetes; however, this explanation doesn’t seem to be enough. In this country, young people who are not at high risk are dying. It seems evident that many patients are arriving at hospitals when it’s too late since the lethality decreases when they are treated on time. Furthermore, Mexican media has shared the stories of people who despite having serious COVID-19 symptoms, haven’t been tested or are sent home. 
 
Another possible reason is inequality because marginalized people live in reduced spaces with their entire families, and the situation is exacerbated by the lack of running water and healthcare services. Moreover, they live from hand to mouth and have to leave their homes without protection every day. This makes children, teenagers, and adults more vulnerable to COVID-19.
 
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It could be argued that European countries have an older population and that their demographic pyramid is different from Mexico’s. However, the risk curve in Mexico is more worrying than in other countries. According to the curve, the risk among those who are up to 79 years old is higher than in other countries. For example, in Mexico the risk is five times higher among people between 50 and 59 years old than in Germany but the risk among the population between 80 and 89 years old is lower in Mexico. 
 
However, this situation cannot be explained with the deteriorated health of Mexicans, inequality, or the healthcare system. In Mexico, the risk among older people doesn't increase after 70 years old, as in the case of other countries. It seems like numbers are under-recorded, that we have an incomplete description of the situation. 
 
On May 14, Mexico City Mayor Claudia  Sheinbaum acknowledged that there is an under-recording of coronavirus-related deaths and created a committee of experts to examine recent death certificates. Besides the initial reaction of the Health Ministry after the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal published two controversial articles on May 8, which questioned the statistics issued by the Mexican government, although it is now clear that several cases must be investigated. 
 
Numbers suggest a possible under-recording of coronavirus-related deaths, especially regarding the elderly. It is possible that some of them arrived at hospitals when it was too late or didn’t make it to the hospital at all. Perhaps they didn’t get tested for COVID-19 and due to their age, they became part of the death statistics
 
In any case,it would be easy t clear these cases by comparing historical death curves in Mexico with the deaths registered this year, like New York Times and the Financial Times did in the case of different cities, states, and countries. In particular, the Financial Times found that there is a possible under-recording of 60% worldwide. Although Mexico was not part of these studies, they would probably find an unexplainable increase in deaths, which weren’t attributed to COVID-19. If you add these records to coronavirus-related deaths, Mexico’s death toll could be similar to that of other countries.
 
The Health Ministry has the necessary information and power to analyze these numbers which are quite atypical in the international context.
 
Raúl Rojas is a mathematician, an academic at the Free University of Berlin, and was awarded the National Science Award
 
Recommended: As new COVID-19 clusters emerge worldwide, WHO warns virus may be here to stay
 
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