Compared to many Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has managed to keep COVID-19 fatality rates relatively low. Between March and November 2020, MENA’s aggregate fatality rate – the number of new deaths as a share of new cases – averaged about 3 percent, as compared to 4 percent in the OECD. Since this period, as medical practitioners have learned how to better treat the infection, fatality rates have declined across the board. However, as in the OECD, experience within MENA has varied significantly.
The visualization below tracks the fatality rate for a sample of MENA countries from March 2020 through July 2021. In the earliest stages of the pandemic, most MENA countries witnessed extremely low fatality rates. In April and May 2020, fatality rates increased significantly in several lower- and middle-income countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as fragile states like Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya. In later months, COVID-19 fatality seems to have been reduced in most states, with Algeria and Egypt remaining outliers. Despite high infection rates on a per capita basis, most the Gulf Cooperation Country (GCC) states have been able to keep their fatality rates relatively low throughout the pandemic.
These trends likely reflect several factors. GCC countries have ample resources to invest in health care systems, whereas health care systems in some low- and middle-income countries have been chronically underfunded, compromising their ability to treat the virus effectively. Countries have different demographic profiles (such as in the GCC states, where national populations and guest workers tend to be relatively younger), which can place greater, or lesser, numbers of their population at higher risk. Finally, as the pandemic drags on, health care providers understand more about the novel coronavirus and are better able to treat COVID-19 patients, resulting in a global drop in fatality rates. It should also be noted that, without comprehensive testing and tracking regimes, some countries may not have been able to accurately capture all of the less severe cases, resulting in their fatality rates being overstated.
Source: Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina, and Joe Hasell, “Coronavirus Pandemic (COVID-19),” Our World in Data, 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus.
Paul Dyer is a policy analyst with Brookings Doha Center, and Isaac Schaider and Andrew Letzkus are data analysts with the Brookings Doha Center.