Image copyright Getty Images United States President Donald Trump has disputed official findings that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s hurricane.He added that the death toll had been inflated by adding people who died of other causes.”If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add…
United States President Donald Trump has disputed official findings that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s hurricane.
He added that the death toll had been inflated by adding people who died of other causes.
“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them on to the list,” he tweeted.
So is he correct to say this figure is wrong?
Nearly every study and report into the hurricane estimates a significantly higher toll than the early official estimates mentioned by the president.
The GWU study concluded the initial death toll only included those killed directly by hurricanes Maria and Irma – either by drowning, flying debris or building collapse.
GWU researchers also counted those who died in the six months following as a result of poor healthcare provision and a lack of electricity and clean water.
How did they get their figure?
The key part of the research is an estimate of “excess mortality” from September 2017 to February 2018.
Put simply, this is the difference between the predicted normal death rate if the hurricane had not struck (estimated using historical data), and the actual death rate for the period afterwards.
The researchers also factored in migration away from Puerto Rico in the wake of the storms.
“Overall, we estimate that 40% of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality in the study period than in the comparable period of the previous two years.”
Recording the deaths
One important issue the GWU study raises is the process of recording deaths after the hurricane.
“Most physicians receive no formal training in death certificate completion, in particular in a disaster,” it states.
Some of those they interviewed showed a reluctance to record deaths as hurricane-related.
The report also points to major communication and infrastructure problems which delayed the relaying of important information about health issues and procedures for recording deaths.
“Physician unawareness of appropriate death certification practices…. and the government of Puerto Rico’s lack of communication about the death certificate process…substantially limited the count of deaths related to María.”
How reliable is the study?
Head of statistics for BBC News, Robert Cuffe, describes the GWU report as “comprehensive”.
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