Pandemic destroyed a decade of progress in life expectancy, says WHO

Americas and Southeast Asia will have been the hardest hit

Covid-19 has reversed the trend of constant increase in life expectancy at birth and healthy life expectancy at birth, warns the World Health Organization (WHO) in the latest edition of world health statistics.

The pandemic will have destroyed almost a decade of progress in improving life expectancy in just two years, says the organization, maintaining that between 2019 and 2021 global life expectancy fell by 1,8 years, to 71,4 years, returning to the level 2012, and global healthy life expectancy fell by 1,5 years, to 61,9 years in 2021, also returning to the 2012 level.

The report also highlights that non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as ischemic heart disease and stroke, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes, were the biggest causes of death before the pandemic. , responsible for 74% of all deaths in 2019, and even during the pandemic, they continued to be responsible for 78% of deaths not related to Covid-19.

The 2024 report states that the WHO regions for the Americas and Southeast Asia will have been the hardest hit, with life expectancy falling by around three years and healthy life expectancy by 2,5 years between 2019 and 2021. In In contrast, the Western Pacific region recorded losses of less than 0,1 years in life expectancy and 0,2 years in healthy life expectancy.

“We must remember how fragile progress can be. In just two years, the pandemic erased a decade of gains in life expectancy,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, cited in a statement from the organization.

According to the organization, covid-19 was the third leading cause of mortality worldwide in 2020 and the second in 2021, being responsible for almost 13 million lives lost during that period.

According to the organization's latest estimates, except in the African and Western Pacific regions, covid-19 was among the five main causes of death, becoming the main cause of death in the Americas in both years.

In the report, the WHO also warns of the increase in obesity, malnutrition and that access to health care for refugees and migrants remains limited, with only half of the 84 countries surveyed between 2018 and 2021 providing government-funded health services to these groups at levels comparable to those of their citizens.

“This highlights the urgent need for health systems to adapt and address persistent inequalities and the changing demographic needs of global populations,” he warns.