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Covid-19 may cause a decline in life expectancy in various parts of the world, says study

Greater impact should occur in regions with higher life expectancy, such as Europe and North America Image: Getty Images

In places with high life expectancy, such as Brazil and the United States, a percentage above 2% of the population infected with covid-19 may already be able to break a historic growth trend in this indicator, in which as the years go by , the longer people tend to live.

So says a study published this Thursday (17/9) in the journal PLOS ONE, which combined in a mathematical model data of the probability of becoming infected and dying from Covid-19 within a year in different age groups, in addition to figures on other causes of mortality and life expectancy in four major regions of the world.

With the new disease, a decline in life expectancy is expected at least in the short term in several countries, especially those with the longest life expectancy, in Europe and North America; and particularly in specific locations strongly affected by the disease, such as New York, in the USA, and Bergamo, in Italy.

According to the publication, a prevalence (share of infected people in relation to the total population) of 10% could lead to a loss of one year in life expectancy in Europe, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

For such a loss to occur in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a prevalence of 15% and 25%, respectively, would be required. The impact is less in places with lower life expectancy because, in them, survival at older ages is already lower.

With a 50% prevalence of covid-19 in the population within a year, life expectancy could drop from 3 to 9 years in North America and Europe; 3 to 8 years in Latin America and the Caribbean; from 2 to 7 years in Southeast Asia; and 1 to 4 years in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Europe took almost 20 years for the average life expectancy at birth to grow by six years – from 72.8 years in 1990 to 78.6 years in 2019. The covid-19 may bring this indicator back to values ​​some time ago “says one of the study’s authors, Sergei Scherbov, of the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital, at the University of Vienna, Austria.

He signs the work with Guillaume Marois, from the Asian Demographic Research Institute, at the University of Shanghai, China; and Raya Muttarak, from the University of East Anglia, in the United Kingdom.

“However, we are not sure what will happen yet. In many countries the lethality of covid-19 is decreasing sharply, probably because the treatment protocol has been better defined”, ponders Sherbov on the possibility of the scenarios being confirmed over time or not.

In the last century, life expectancy has grown significantly in various parts of the world.

This is one of the indicators included in the Human Development Index (HDI) account and is influenced by social, economic conditions, and access to education and health.

Like outbreaks of influenza and ebola in the past, coronavirus may affect short-term life expectancy indicators - Getty Images - Getty Images
Like outbreaks of influenza and ebola in the past, coronavirus may affect short-term life expectancy indicators Image: Getty Images

The PLOS ONE article considered the following classification by regions of the world: very high life expectancy (North America and Europe, 79.2 years); high (Latin America and the Caribbean, 76.1 years old); medium (Southeast Asia, 73.3 years old); and low (Sub-Saharan Africa, 62.1 years old).

Epidemics from the past have already shown that curves can be suddenly changed, such as the influenza pandemic in 1918 and the ebola outbreak in 2014, which reduced life expectancy by 11.8 years in the US and from 1.6 to 5.6 years in Liberia, respectively, according to previous studies.

The authors point out, however, that the impact of covid-19 on life expectancy may not be so obvious.

This is because, on the one hand, the virus is more lethal at older ages, so the number of years lost is not so great in the final sum of life expectancy; on the other hand, the disease can have a devastating and rapid impact in certain locations, being able to affect, yes, the indicator of a country or region.

Another caveat made by the team is about covid-19 prevalence and mortality data, which are not as reliable and complete; for this reason, a mathematical model was chosen that combines various types of data, pointing to trends and different scenarios and focused on large regions.

Just to have a parameter of the situation in Brazil, the country counted, until this Thursday, 4.4 million positive diagnoses of covid-19, about 2% of the population of 212 million estimated by IBGE.

It is known, however, that the numbers are probably underestimated. The most recent balance of the EpiCovid-19 study, carried out by the Federal University of Pelotas (UFPEL) and financed by the Ministry of Health, points out that the total number of infected people in the country can be up to seven times higher.

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