Infectious Disease

267,000 more babies died than expected in 2020, a global study shows

August 24, 2021

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Researchers estimated that in 2020 more than 267,000 infants in low- and middle-income countries died as a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We expected a significant increase in mortality” Gil Shapira, PhD, an economist at the World Bank, said Healio Primary Care. “However, we did not enter the project with any particular expectation.”

Reference: Shapira G, et al. BMJ open. 2021; doi: 10.1136 / bmjopen-2021-050551.

The actual number of infant deaths could be even higher, he said.

Gil Shapira

Shapira and colleagues linked data on gross domestic product per capita between 1985 and 2017 with 5.2 million previous births in 128 low- and middle-income countries. They then used growth projections from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook to assess the impact of the economic decline in infant mortality in 2020.

The results, published in BMJ Open, showed that there were 267,208 additional infant deaths in the 12 months after the pandemic began, 6.8% more than the estimated number of infant deaths expected. Broken down by geographic area, most of these deaths occurred in South Asia (113,141 additional casualties), followed by Sub-Saharan Africa (82,239 additional casualties), East Asian and Pacific regions (32,537 additional casualties), Latin America and the Caribbean (17,202 additional casualties) , the Middle East and North Africa (14,127 additional casualties), and Europe and Central Asia (7,962 additional casualties).

According to the researchers, these excessive deaths are solely attributed to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, “although some countries have also experienced other shocks such as natural disasters or political crises”. They also found that it is difficult to compare their results with previous studies examining the effects of health system disorders on excess mortality. Nevertheless, their estimate is in line with projections from a study published in the Lancet Global Health in July 2020 and quoted by the WHO in a press conference.

“It is important to note that we are only focusing on one cause of excessive deaths during the pandemic in low- to middle-income countries,” Shapira said. “We assume that overall excess mortality is even higher than we estimate based on the forecast decline in economic growth alone.”

The study is the latest to illustrate the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Preliminary data from the CDC showed a 1.5 year decrease in life expectancy from 2019 to 2020, and data released last week showed higher excess mortality rates in underrepresented populations. Other recent reports have shown that between February 2020 and August 2020 there were up to 9,019 deaths in dialysis patients and up to 1,403 additional deaths in kidney transplant recipients. In addition, the National Cancer Institute forecast nearly 10,000 more deaths from breast cancer and colon cancer over the next decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shapira said he hopes the new data underscores the urgency of allocating efforts and resources to address the downstream effects of the pandemic.

“The sources of indirect mortality from the pandemic need to be addressed by strengthening social safety nets and ensuring the continuity of life-saving health services,” he said.

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