Thursday, 13 June, 2024
HomeCovid-19Covid wiped out decade of life expectancy progress

Covid wiped out decade of life expectancy progress

The recently released World Health Statistics 2024 report urges countries to redouble their efforts towards health-related sustainable development goals by 2030, as the pandemic has reversed the trend of steady gain in life expectancy at birth and healthy life expectancy at birth (HALE).

The report is the annual compilation of health and health-related indicators, published by the World Health Organisation since 2005.

Concerningly, said the researchers, even during the pandemic, non-communicable diseases continued to account for 78% of non-Covid deaths.

Covid itself wiped out nearly a decade of progress in improving life expectancy within just two years, dropping – between 2019 and 2021– by 1.8 years to 71.4 years (back to the level of 2012). Similarly, global healthy life expectancy dropped by 1.5 years to 61.9 years in 2021 (back to the level of 2012).

The effects have been felt unequally across the world. The WHO regions for the Americas and South-East Asia were hit hardest, with life expectancy dropping by three years, and healthy life expectancy by 2.5 years between 2019 and 2021.

In contrast, the Western Pacific Region was minimally affected during the first two years of the pandemic, with losses of less than 0.1 years in life expectancy and 0.2 years in healthy life expectancy.

“There continues to be major progress in global health, with billions of people who are enjoying better health, better access to services, and better protection from health emergencies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“But we must remember how fragile progress can be. In just two years, the pandemic erased a decade of gains in life expectancy. That’s why the new Pandemic Agreement is so important: not only to strengthen global health security, but to protect long-term investments in health and promote equity within and between countries.”

Non-communicable diseases the top killer

Covid-19 was the third highest cause of mortality globally in 2020 and the second in 2021. Nearly 13m lives were lost during this period.

In the African and Western Pacific regions, it was among the top five causes of deaths, notably becoming the leading cause of death in the Americas for both years.

Before the pandemic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like ischaemic heart disease and stroke, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, and diabetes were the biggest killers, responsible for 74% of all deaths in 2019.

But even during the pandemic, NCDs continued to account for 78% of non-Covid deaths.

Increasing obesity and malnutrition

In 2022, more than 1bn people aged five years and older were obese, while more than half a billion were underweight.

Malnutrition in children was also striking, with 148m children under five affected by stunting, 45m suffering from wasting (too thin for height), and 37m were overweight.

Despite setbacks from the pandemic, however, some progress had been made towards achieving the Triple Billion targets and health-related indicators of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Since 2018, an additional 1.5bn people achieved better health and well-being. But despite gains, rising obesity, high tobacco use and persistent air pollution hinder progress.

Universal Health Coverage expanded to 585m more people, falling short of the goal for 1bn. Additionally, only 777m more people are likely to be adequately protected during health emergencies by 2025, falling short of the 1bn target set in WHO’s 13th General Programme of Work.

World health stats 24

World Health Organisation article – COVID-19 eliminated a decade of progress in global level of life expectancy (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Jump in Africa’s life expectancy but still below world average – WHO report


COVID reduced South African life expectancy by 3.5 years


Pandemic triggers biggest fall in life expectancy in decades — 29-country study


Air pollution cuts life expectancy by far more than thought





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