Assessing the potential impact of COVID-19 on life expectancy

Guillaume Marois, Raya Muttarak, Sergei Scherbov

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BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 virus pandemic has caused a significant number of deaths worldwide. If the prevalence of the infection continues to grow, this could impact life expectancy. This paper provides first estimates of the potential direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on period life expectancy. METHODS: From the estimates of bias-adjusted age-specific infection fatality rates in Hubei (China) and a range of six prevalence rate assumptions ranging from 1% to 70%, we built a discrete-time microsimulation model that simulates the number of people infected by COVID-19, the number dying from it, and the number of deaths from all causes week by week for a period of one year. We applied our simulation to four broad regions: North America and Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean; Southeastern Asia; and sub-Saharan African. For each region, 100,000 individuals per each 5-year age group are simulated. RESULTS: At a 10% COVID-19 prevalence rate, the loss in life expectancy at birth is likely above 1 year in North America and Europe and in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Southeastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, one year lost in life expectancy corresponds to an infection prevalence of about 15% and 25%, respectively. Given the uncertainty in fatality rates, with a 50% prevalence of COVID-19 infections under 95% prediction intervals, life expectancy would drop by 3 to 9 years in North America and Europe, by 3 to 8 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, by 2 to 7 years in Southeastern Asia, and by 1 to 4 years in sub-Saharan Africa. In all prevalence scenarios, as long as the COVID-19 infection prevalence rate remains below 1 or 2%, COVID-19 would not affect life expectancy in a substantial manner. INTERPRETATION: In regions with relatively high life expectancy, if the infection prevalence threshold exceeds 1 or 2%, the COVID-19 pandemic will break the secular trend of increasing life expectancy, resulting in a decline in period life expectancy. With life expectancy being a key indicator of human development, mortality increase, especially among the vulnerable subgroups of populations, would set a country back on its path of human development.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0238678
JournalPLoS One
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sep 2020

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