COVID-19 ‘Radically’ Changed the Leading Causes of Death

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Written By Robby Macaay

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COVID-19 became the second leading cause of death globally in the year after it was declared a pandemic, according to a study published in the Lancet.

While heart disease remained the top killer, COVID “radically altered” the main five causes of death for the first time in 30 years, displacing stroke, the publication said. In 2021, 94 in every 100,000 people died from COVID, on an age-standardized basis.

Since 1990, global life expectancy increased by 6.2 years, mainly due to reductions in death from diarrhea and lower respiratory infections and better outcomes for people suffering from a stroke or ischemic heart disease.

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“Our study presents a nuanced picture of the world’s health,” said Liane Ong, co-first author of the study and a lead research scientist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. “On one hand, we see countries’ monumental achievements in preventing deaths from diarrhea and stroke. At the same time, we see how much the COVID-19 pandemic has set us back.”

From 2019 to 2021, progress was made in preventing deaths for most other top causes of death except for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and malaria.

The study is thought to be the first that compared deaths from COVID to deaths from other causes. It tracked 288 causes of death in 204 countries and territories and 811 subnational locations.

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