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Lancet Study: COVID-19 Reduces Global Life Expectancy, Ranks Second in 2021

COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, has now surpassed stroke to become the second-leading cause of death worldwide in 2021. According to a recent international study published in The Lancet journal, COVID-19 has resulted in 94 deaths per one lakh population and has reduced life expectancy by 1.6 years.

The research highlights a significant disruption in the trend of increasing life expectancy and decreasing mortality rates that have been observed over the past thirty years. The impact of COVID-19 has been described as one of the most significant global health events in recent history.

In 2020, global deaths increased by 10.8% compared to 2019, with a further 7.5% rise in 2021 compared to 2020. Similarly, death rates rose by 8.1% in 2020 and an additional 5.2% in 2021. The study estimates that COVID-19 and its related fatalities have contributed to a decline in life expectancy by 1.6 years between 2019 and 2021, counteracting the progress made in enhancing life expectancy from 1990 to 2019.

The impact of COVID-19 on India, for instance, led to a loss of 1.9 years in life expectancy, despite an overall gain of 7.9 years between 1990 and 2021. The Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Causes of Death Collaborators, who conducted the research, analyzed mortality rates and years of life lost from 288 causes of death across 204 countries and territories from 1990 to 2021. The study revealed that death rates from COVID-19 were most pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa.

Regionally, Latin America and the Caribbean experienced higher death rates at 271 per one lakh population and nearly 200 deaths per one lakh population, respectively. In contrast, southeast Asia, east Asia, and Oceania had lower rates at around 23 deaths per one lakh population.

The study also noted varying degrees of impact on life expectancy due to COVID-19, with Andean Latin America experiencing a loss of 4.9 years and southern sub-Saharan Africa seeing a reduction of 3.4 years. In comparison, east Asia observed minimal changes in life expectancy.

Despite COVID-19’s rise to the second-leading cause of death globally, ischaemic heart disease retained its position as the primary cause of death in 2021, as it was in 2019 and 1990. Stroke followed as the third leading cause, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) ranking fourth, and other pandemic-related mortality ranking fifth. COPD, a lung condition commonly affecting heavy smokers, was highlighted in the study.

The GBD study, which offers comprehensive insights into cause-specific mortality, sheds light on the evolving landscape of global disease patterns before and during the initial years of the pandemic. The research, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, U.S., underscores the significant shifts in disease burden observed during this period.