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COVID-19 pandemic caused global life expectancy to fall back to 2012 levels, erasing a decade’s worth of progress: WHO

COVID-19 pandemic caused global life expectancy to fall back to 2012 levels, erasing a decade’s worth of progress: WHO
The far-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have reshaped humanity’s future in ways we are only beginning to understand. This global health crisis didn’t just disrupt lives—it also shattered nearly a decade of global health progress, a startling new report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has revealed.

According to the World Health Statistics 2024 report, the COVID-19 pandemic reversed over a decade of advancements in global life expectancy within a mere two years. From 2019 to 2021, life expectancy worldwide plummeted by 1.8 years, dropping to 71.4 years. Similarly, global healthy life expectancy decreased by 1.5 years, falling to 61.9 years. The last time both these levels were so low was back in 2012!

The report also underscores the uneven impact of the pandemic across different regions. The WHO regions of Southeast Asia and the Americas were hit the hardest, experiencing a decline in life expectancy by approximately three years and a drop in healthy life expectancy by 2.5 years between 2019 and 2021. In stark contrast, the Western Pacific Region saw minimal effects during the same period, with losses of less than 0.1 years in life expectancy and 0.2 years in healthy life expectancy.

Furthermore, COVID-19 swiftly became a leading cause of death, ranking as the third highest globally in 2020 and the second in 2021, claiming nearly 13 million lives during this period. The latest data indicates that, except in the African and Western Pacific regions, COVID-19 was among the top five causes of death, notably becoming the leading cause of death in the Americas for both years.

“There continues to be major progress in global health, with billions of people who are enjoying better health, better access to services, and better protection from health emergencies. But we must remember how fragile progress can be,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

“In just two years, the COVID-19 pandemic erased a decade of gains in life expectancy. That's why the new Pandemic Agreement is so important: not only to strengthen global health security, but to protect long-term investments in health and promote equity within and between countries.”

The new Pandemic Agreement, also known as the ‘Pandemic Accord’ or ‘Pandemic Treaty’, is an international pact currently under negotiation by the 194 member states of the WHO. This accord aims to enhance global readiness and response to pandemics, ensuring the world can effectively prevent, prepare for, and respond to future health crises.

The negotiation process is spearheaded by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), established by the World Health Assembly in 2021. The INB's goal is to finalise the agreement for adoption at the 2024 World Health Assembly, scheduled from May 27 to June 1 in Geneva, Switzerland. This year's Health Assembly theme, ‘All for Health, Health for All,’ underscores the universal commitment to this crucial initiative.

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