Global life expectancy slumped but NZs stayed up

life expectancy

Covid-19 and life expectancy made bad partners in most countries during the pandemic. The virus made global life expectancy fall.

Except that is in New Zealand, Australia and a few other countries. Here and in those places, the long-standing trend of people living longer continues.

The pandemic’s toll

About 15.9 million deaths have been attributed to the Covid pandemic worldwide.

The latest Lancet medical journal includes a University of Washington study showing what Covid’s toll on human health has been like so far.

The study found 84 per cent of countries and territories experienced sharp dips in life expectancy in 2020 and 2021. During that time, global life expectancy fell by 1.6 years.

“For adults worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a more profound impact than any event seen in half a century, including conflicts and natural disasters” the report says.

It demonstrates “the devastating potential impacts of novel pathogens.”

The survival difference

Just 32 of 204 countries studied recorded an increase in life expectancy between 2020 and 2021. New Zealand was one, our Tasman Sea neighbour another.

Australia recorded a 0.01 per cent increase in deaths due to Covid. New Zealand, which had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, had one of the lowest excess mortality rates once demographics were considered, the report says.

It comes down to the approach to handling the pandemic, says Hassan Vally, associate professor of epidemiology at Deakin University.

It confirms how good Australia’s response was, especially during the first two years of the pandemic he explains.

Strict measures including lockdowns were introduced to control Covid’s spread before vaccinations were available.

“It doesn’t mean every decision was perfect or we got everything right but it’s certainly evidence that supports we had good health outcomes compared to other places in that really difficult early phase of the pandemic.”

What the data says

  • 2019 – global life expectancy was 73.3 years; women 76 years; men 70.8 years; Australia 83.2 years
  • 2021 – global life expectancy was 71.7 years; women 74.8 years; men 69 years; Australia 83.4 years
  • 2019-2021 – USA – over 1 million people are thought to have died from Covid; life expectancy – 79.1 years in 2019; 77.1 years in 2021
  • 2020-2021 – global “unprecedented increase” in deaths among people aged 25 years and older
  • 2019-2021 –  global mortality rose by 22 per cent in men aged over 15 years, and by 17 per cent in women
  • 2019-2021 – global mortality in under five-year olds largely unchanged – in fact, deaths decreased by 7 percent.

The study

The Gates Foundation- funded University of Washington study updates estimates in the Global Burden of Disease Study 2021.

It drew over 11,000 collaborators’ expertise from 160-plus countries and territories.

Demographic trends using data about age and other factors was evaluated to analyse mortality rates and how these impacted Covid outcomes.

The report noted age-standardised rates showed Covid was disproportionately severe in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, south Asia and Latin America.

There were “substantial” differences in the numbers of excess deaths between countries the report says. These differences may be linked to how they handled the pandemic.

“Vaccination efforts, public policies and individual behaviour changes likely influenced the severity of the pandemic across countries and territories at all levels of socio-demographic index” the report says.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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