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Global Life Expectancy Takes Historic Hit During Pandemic, IHME Study Reveals

Published March 12, 2024
2 months ago

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered a blow to global life expectancy, causing it to plummet by an average of 1.6 years during the pandemic's first two years, according to a comprehensive study published in The Lancet journal. This decline is one of the sharpest recorded, interrupting a continued rise in global life expectancy observed over several decades. The research, spearheaded by experts at the US-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), paints a stark picture of the pandemic's profound impact on human longevity—a disruption of a magnitude not seen in the past 50 years.

The study, which scrutinized data from 204 countries and territories, discovered an alarming trend, with life expectancy dropping in 84% of these regions. This massive study demonstrates how new viral threats can carry devastating potential impacts. Countries like Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia experienced some of the most significant declines in life expectancy.

However, amidst the grim findings of increased mortality, the IHME study offers a glimmer of hope with its findings on child mortality. Compared to 2019, there were half a million fewer child deaths worldwide in 2021, indicating a hopeful continuation of the long-term decreasing trend in young child mortality rates.

On a broader scale, longevity outcomes suggest that while COVID-19 has dampened recent life expectancy figures, progress over the past century remains undeniable. Since 1950, the global average life expectancy at birth has surged from 49 to 72 years—an increase of 23 years, signifying substantial advancements in public health and medical care over time.

Delving deeper into the pandemic's repercussions, the study attributes 15.9 million excess deaths to COVID-19 during 2020-2021. These deaths, directly or indirectly resulting from the pandemic, exceed the World Health Organization's prior estimates.

Countries like Barbados, New Zealand, and Antigua and Barbuda recorded among the lowest rates of excess deaths, possibly benefitting from geographic isolation that shielded them to some extent from COVID-19's spread.

Also, the study observes a fundamental shift in demographic patterns, with aging, affluent countries beginning to experience population declines, while the populations of less wealthy nations continue to swell. These demographic shifts, IHME researcher Austin Schumacher points out, will usher in new economic, social, and political challenges—including labor shortages and resource scarcity.

Schumacher advocates for international cooperation to address these imminent issues. Emphasizing the importance of preparedness, he underscores the imperative to focus on potential future pandemics and rectify health disparities among countries.

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