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COVID-19 second-leading cause of death globally in 2021, slashed life expectancy: Lancet Study

Apr 04,2024

New Delhi: COVID-19 replaced stroke to become the second-leading cause of death globally in 2021, causing 94 deaths per one lakh population and slashing life expectancy by 1.6 years, an international research published in The Lancet journal has found. Disrupting more than three decades of consistent improvements in life expectancy and deaths, COVID-19 reversed this long-standing progress to emerge as “one of the most defining global health events of recent history,” researchers said.

In 2020, deaths around the world rose by 10.8 per cent compared to 2019, and in 2021, they rose by 7.5 per cent relative to 2020. Death rates too followed a similar trend, rising by 8.1 per cent in 2020 and an additional 5.2 per cent in 2021, the study estimated.

Globally, COVID-19 and related deaths were responsible for slashing life expectancy by 1.6 years between 2019 and 2021, even as reduced deaths from infections, stroke, and of newborns, among others, had helped steadily enhance life expectancy between 1990 and 2019, the researchers found.

India lost 1.9 years of life expectancy due to COVID-19, resulting in a net gain of 7.9 years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2021, the study showed.

“COVID-19 had a pronounced influence on the reduction in global life expectancy that occurred,” the authors wrote.

The researchers forming the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) Causes of Death Collaborators estimated mortality and years of life lost from 288 causes of death across 204 countries and territories for every year from 1990 until 2021.

Region-wise, death rates from COVID-19 were the highest in the sub-Saharan Africa.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, it was at 271 per one lakh population and almost 200 deaths per one lakh population, respectively.

The rate was the lowest in southeast Asia, east Asia, and Oceania at around 23 deaths per one lakh population, the researchers estimated.

The impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy was found to be wide-ranging in severity, with Andean Latin America seeing a loss of 4.9 years and the southern sub-Saharan Africa seeing a reduction of 3.4 years, to the east Asia, which witnessed almost no change, they said in the study.

The leading cause of death worldwide in 2021 continues to be ischaemic heart disease, as was the case in 2019 and 1990, the researchers found. The disease is caused by a reduced blood flow to a certain body part due to clotting or constricting blood vessels.

Stroke, at the third position amongst the top five causes of death, was found to be followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at fourth, and other pandemic-related mortality at fifth. COPD is a lung condition usually seen to affect heavy smokers.

The GBD study, providing “latest comprehensive estimates of cause-specific mortality,” gives insights about the global landscape of disease before and during the first two years of the pandemic, revealing changes in disease-burden patterns that followed, according to the researchers, coordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, US.

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