COVID-19 pandemic erased decade of gains in life expectancy, NCDs deaths on the rise: World Health Statistics Report

New Pandemic Agreement important not only to strengthen global health security, but to protect long-term investments in health and promote equity within and between countries

By Seema Prasad
Published: Friday 24 May 2024
A health worker collects a swab sample for RT-PCR Covid-19 test of a woman at a sample collection centre during the nationwide lockdown in New Delhi in 2020. IStock photo

Globally, the proportion of deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) rose to to 73.9 per cent by 2019 and the share of communicable diseases dropped to 18.2 per cent, according to the annual World Health Statistics Report released on May 24, 2024.

The estimates showed that 13 million people died of COVID-19 between 2020 and 2021. During which time, COVID-19 visibly became the leading cause of death among communicable diseases, ranking third-highest worldwide as the cause of mortality globally in 2020 and second in 2021.

Communicable diseases, however, increased when the pandemic struck. “With the emergence of COVID-19, communicable diseases surged back to 23.0 per cent of all deaths in 2020 and 28.1 per cent in 2021 — a return to 2005 levels. Consequently, the share of NCD deaths declined to 70.0 per cent in 2020 and 65.3 per cent in 2021,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, diabetes, cancers, ischaemic heart disease, stroke and dementias were some of the NCDs responsible for 74 per cent of all deaths. However, NCDs continued to cause 78 per cent of non-COVID deaths during the pandemic as well.

Global life expectancy increased by 7.8 years from 1990 to 2019, according to a Lancet study published in April this year. Dropping to 71.4 years, the COVID-19 pandemic reversed global life expectancy by 1.8 years, data shows.

“In just two years, the COVID-19 pandemic erased a decade of gains in life expectancy. That is 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,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasised in a press statement.

Top 10 causes of mortality in 2021

Credit: World Health Statistics Report, 2024

The WHO report underlined that the world is dealing with a double burden of malnutrition and obesity. In 2022, one billion children over five years of age and adults were estimated to be living with obesity and half a billion were underweight simultaneously, exposing a dual health challenge that the world has to combat.

Strikingly, 148 million children were impacted by stunting, a condition that impairs children’s growth and development due to poor nutrition. Further, 45 million children were affected by wasting. “Child wasting refers to a child who is too thin for his or her height and is the result of recent rapid weight loss or the failure to gain weight,” according to the WHO.

The number of adults living with obesity increased exponentially by nearly 700 million from 1990, reaching 890 million individuals by 2022. On the other hand, the number of adult individuals who were underweight, decreased by 90 million to 400 million during the same period, the WHO said.

“The coexistence of undernutrition, overweight and obesity can be addressed by taking advantage of the shared drivers across forms of malnutrition, including biological, environmental and social factors, to design and implement policies and programs using a life-course, multi-generational approach,” the WHO said.

Despite the World Health Assembly adopting the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) in 2016, which recommended that countries develop national action plans, several nations failed to do so.

Antimicrobial resistance affects countries across various income levels, being a complex problem across sectors comprising health, food production, animals, and the environment at large.

“As of November 2023, some 178 countries had such plans developed. However, in 2023 only 27 per cent of countries reported implementing their national action plans effectively and only 11 per cent had allocated national budgets to do so,” the report said.

Sustainable Development Goals Indicator 3.d.2 refers to bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial-resistant organisms. The goals have far from been met, as evidenced by the incidences of AMR that have risen in certain bacterial strains over the years, the data reveals.

AMR is associated with substantially increased mortality among patients with Escherichia coli (E. coli) bloodstream infection, according to a 2022 Lancet study.

In comparison to 2016 levels of  26.9 per cent and 13.4 per cent respectively, AMR to third-generation cephalosporins in E. coli and methicillin resistance in Staphylococcus aureus were 41 per cent and 32 per cent in 2021, the report highlighted.

The data is limited because it is based on sampling facilities available in health settings, depending on available resources. Compared with 15 countries that provided data on methicillin resistance in 2016, 78 countries provided data in 2021.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.