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04/04/24 | 2:30 pm | COVID-19 | The Lancet

Global life expectancy rises despite setbacks from COVID-19

Global life expectancy surged by 6.2 years between 1990 and 2021, as revealed by a recent study published in The Lancet.

The rise has been attributed to significant decline in mortality rates linked to diseases such as diarrhea, lower respiratory infections, stroke, and ischemic heart disease.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic posed major challenges, leading to a net reduction in global life expectancy by 1.6 years between 2019 and 2021.

From 1990 to 2019, incremental improvements in life expectancy were witnessed, with annual reductions in mortality rates ranging from 0.9% to 2.4%. But the onset of the pandemic caused a significant shift in mortality rankings, with COVID-19 swiftly becoming the second-leading cause of death globally.

Regional variations in life expectancy changes were observed, with the Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Oceania region experiencing the greatest net gain of 8.3 years between 1990 and 2021. Effective pandemic management helped to minimize life expectancy losses due to Covid-19 to just 0.4 years between 2019 and 2021.

Despite these challenges, strides were made in combating specific diseases. Notably, reductions in deaths from enteric diseases, including diarrhea and typhoid, contributed to a global increase in life expectancy by 1.1 years. In South Asia and Eastern sub-Saharan Africa, effective control of mortality from diarrheal diseases led to significant gains in life expectancy.

Ischemic heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide, witnessed a significant decline in age-standardized mortality rate by 31.5% between 1990 and 2021. Meanwhile, Covid-19 emerged as the second-leading cause of death, with an age-standardized mortality rate of 94.0 in 2021.

Latin America and the Caribbean saw the largest decline in life expectancy due to Covid-19, with a reduction of 3.6 years.

The study, the first of its kind to comprehensively compare COVID-19 deaths with other leading causes of mortality, highlights the pandemic’s far-reaching implications. It was conducted across 204 countries and territories, as well as 811 subnational locations, spanning from 1990 to 2021.

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