Covid-19 can temporarily reduce life expectancy in many regions of the world, says study

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on September 19, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic could cause a short-term decline in life expectancy in many regions of the world, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

A new analysis of period life expectancy around the world shows that the Covid-19 pandemic could cause a short-term decline.

“Unless the spread of the disease is contained, Covid-19 will likely lead to reduced life expectancy in severely affected areas,” the report said.

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA ) analysed period life expectancy as part of the study by examining the impact of Covid-19-related deaths on life expectancy for four broad world regions across multiple rates of infection and age groups.

“Period life expectancy is a measure of the number of years that an average person may expect to live,” the report read

"Our study provides the first assessment of the potential impact of Covid-19 on period life expectancies according to a range of scenarios of prevalence rates over a one-year period," said IIASA researcher Guillaume Marois, who led the study.

Researchers, as part of the study, build a microsimulation model to determine the probability of getting infected by Covid-19, the probability of dying from it, and the probability of dying from another cause for a period of one year, taking into account the different fatality rates from the disease for different age groups.

The impact of the pandemic on life expectancy was by recreating life tables and life expectancies from the simulation and comparing them with those used for the inputs.

The study found that the pandemic would not affect life expectancy at very low prevalence rates. However, with a 2 per cent or more prevalence rate, it could lead to a drop in life expectancy in countries where average life expectancy is high.

"At 10 per cent prevalence, the loss in life expectancy is likely to be above one year in high life-expectancy countries such as those in Europe and North America. At 50 per cent, it would translate into three to nine years of life lost in high life-expectancy regions. In less developed regions, the impact is smaller given that there is already lower survival at older ages," said Marois. "However, even in the most affected regions, the life expectancy will likely recover once the pandemic is over.”

The study could help in determining public health measures to reduce the Covid-19 mortality rate.

"These 'what-if' scenarios can give policy-relevant information on what could potentially happen to life expectancy under different levels of prevalence, which vary with public health strategies to reduce and prevent the spread of Covid-19. We show that if the virus spread widely in the population, for instance, in the absence of any lockdowns and social distance measures, this could result in a notable drop in period life expectancy," said IIASA World Population Program Deputy Director Raya Muttarak who co-authored the study.

Published on September 19, 2020

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