World has lost over 20.5 million years of life due to coronavirus pandemic, study reveals

Years of life lost in countries heavily affected by Covid-19 may be two to nine times higher than those due to average seasonal influenza

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 18 February 2021 18:26
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Coronavirus in numbers

The world has lost over 20.5 million years of life due to the coronavirus pandemic, with an average of 16 years lost per death, a study has revealed.

Scientists measured years of life lost (YLL), the difference between an individual’s age at death and their life expectancy.

They found YLL in countries heavily affected by Covid-19 may be two to nine times higher than YLL due to average seasonal influenza.

Hector Pifarre i Arolas, of the Pompeu Fabra University, Spain, and colleagues, estimated YLL due to Covid-19 using data from nearly 1,280,000 deaths in 81 countries, as well as life expectancy data and projections for total Covid-19 deaths by country.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, estimated that in total 20,507,518 years of life may have been lost due to Covid-19, or 16 years per individual death.

When the total YLL was broken down by age, 44.9 per cent occurred in individuals between 55 and 75, 30.2 per cent in those younger than 55 and 25 per cent in those older than 75.

In countries with information on death counts by gender, YLL was 44 per cent higher in men than women.

Compared to other causes of death, YLL associated iwth Covid-19 was found to be two to nine times greater than YLL associated with seasonal flu, and between a quarter and a half as much as the YLL attributable to heart conditions.

The authors called for more awareness around policites to protect vulnerable demographics, who are losing the largest number of life-years.

“Our results confirm that the mortality impact of Covid-19 is large, not only in terms of numbers of death, but also in terms of years of life lost,” they wrote.

“While the majority of deaths are occurring at ages above 75, justifying policy responses aimed at protecting these vulnerable ages, our results on the age pattern call for heightened awareness of devis- ing policies protecting also the young.

“The gender differential in years of life lost arises from two components: more men are dying from Covid-19, but men are also dying at younger ages with more potential life years lost than women.

“Holding the current age distribution of deaths constant, eliminating the gender differential in YLL would require on average a 34 per cent reduction in male death counts; this suggests that gender-specific policies might be equally well justified as those based on age.”

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