The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the loss of 28 million years of life in at least 37 countries over the past one year, a study led by University of Oxford has found.
Touted to be the largest-ever survey conducted to evaluate the impact of the pandemic across the world, the study measured the number of deaths and the age at which they occurred to find the years of life lost (YLL) in 37 upper-middle and high-income countries.
While researchers also discovered a substantial fall in life expectancy in most countries due to increase in premature deaths, they said the true toll would be much higher as the study excluded many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America due to lack of data.
Findings of the study have been published in the BMJ medical journal.
Dr Nazul Islam, of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Population Health who led the study told The Guardian that he and his team were “shocked” by the findings and had to “stop at one point to go over everything” to confirm that the findings indeed were correct.
Apart from counting excess deaths, researchers also had to analyse the premature nature of these deaths to under the scale of the impact of the pandemic.
The team used YLL as a measure and estimated the changes in life expectancy and excess years of life lost due to various causes in 2020.
The observed life expectancy and years of life lost last year were then compared with the same that would be expected based on trends between 2005 and 2019 in the 37 countries.
While life expectancy had increased in men and women between 2005 and 2019, a decline was seen in 2020 except in New Zealand, Taiwan and Norway which reported rise in life expectancy.
Russia, the United States and Bulgaria reported the highest decline in life expectancy. In Russia while life expectancy in men and women declined by -2.33 and -2.14, the same in the US was -2.27 and -1.61 for men and women; and -1.96 and -1.37 in Bulgaria.
Similarly, while the decline in life expectancy in England and Wales was -1.2 in men and -0.8 in women, it was -1.24 in men and -0.54 in women in Scotland.
No evidence in a change in life expectancy was found in Iceland, South Korea, Denmark and Norway. In the rest of the 31 countries, more 222 million years of life were lost in 2020 – 28.1 million more than expected.
Russia accounted for the highest years of life per 100,000 people – 7,020 in men and 4,760 in women, followed by Bulgaria (7,260 in men and 3,730 in women) and Lithuania (5,430 in men and 2,640 in women). The years of life lost in England and Wales were 2,140 in men and 1,210 in women, while the same in Scotland were 2,540 in men and 925 in women.