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March 22, 2O24

COVID-19 Pandemic: Four Years Later

It has been four years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. And while there are no more travel restrictions nor mask mandates, we are still dealing with its long-term worldwide impact.

The Lancet just published a COVID-19 impact analysis1 of data taken from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2021.

The GBD study is a multinational collaborative data collection effort from 204 countries and 811 subnational locations from 1950 to the most recent year. For this particular research, data from the GBD 2021 was used to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on mortality rates and life expectancy at a national, regional and global levels.

According to the study, the steady decline in age-standardized mortality rates between 1950 and 2019 was reversed during the first two years of COVID-19. Global number of deaths had an unprecedented increase to 63.1 million in 2020 and 67.9 million in 2021. The impact on mortality rates was disproportionately severe in certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Latin America.

Excess mortality during the pandemic period amounting to 15.9 million deaths can be attributed to COVID-19 - either directly due to the SARS-CoV-2 infection or indirectly from social or economic disruption brought on by the pandemic.  

Global life expectancy also decreased by 1.6 years during the pandemic years - reversing the 70-year trend. Notably, Latin America and the Caribbean had a 3.7-year life expectancy decline compared to the 0.3-year decline in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania.

The study also looked at socio-demographic index (SDI) which factors in income, education and fertility rate. However, there was no strong association between higher SDI and lower excess mortality. Some countries with similar SDI exhibited different excess mortality rates. This suggests that the different COVID-19 response strategies and vaccination rates may be more influential in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.

While global adult mortality rates showed a significant increase during the pandemic, child mortality (less than 15 years old) was mostly unaffected and continued to decline. And though COVID-19 had a negative impact for 2 years, overall global health over the 72-year study period revealed marked improvements in mortality and life expectancy.

Since this research only looked at mortality and life expectancy, it did not address the issue of Post-COVID Conditions (PCC) or most commonly referred to as Long COVID. Because the symptoms for long COVID can be varied, it is hard to pin down the exact figures for how many people worldwide are affected. More research is needed to understand the long-term health consequences of COVID-19 and its subsequent effects on healthcare, economic and social structures.


1. Schumacher, A. E., Kyu, H. H., Aali, A., Abbafati, C., Abbas, J., Abbasgholizadeh, R., Abbasi, M. A., Abbasian, M., Abd ElHafeez, S., Abdelmasseh, M., Abd-Elsalam, S., Abdelwahab, A., Abdollahi, M., Abdoun, M., Abdullahi, A., Abdurehman, A. M., Abebe, M., Abedi, A., Abedi, A., . . . Murray, C. J. L. (2024, March). Global age-sex-specific mortality, life expectancy, and population estimates in 204 countries and territories and 811 subnational locations, 1950–2021, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: a comprehensive demographic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021. The Lancet.


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