COVID-19 deaths led to a five-month decline in life expectancy at birth last year, Recent data The data released by Statistics Canada suggests that it will likely put the country at a level not seen in seven years.
Results varied widely across the country, with Quebec reporting a decline in life expectancy of about a year while Atlantic provinces and territories saw hardly any change, underscoring key differences in the epidemic’s toll by region. Some experts also suggest that life expectancy does not reflect the long-term losses of COVID-19.
The numbers from Statistics Canada are no reason to hit the panic button, said Marisa Creator, associate scientific director at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and associate professor of public health at the University of Toronto.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic, so we expect the death rates to be a little bit higher at the moment,” she said, adding that those rates are unlikely to persist for the life of the baby being born. Today.
The death toll from the pandemic was already clear — more than 25,700 people have died from the virus in Canada since the start of the pandemic, according to the Canadian Public Health Agency But the effect on life expectancy helps put those losses in context, experts say.
It’s happened before
This isn’t the first time a health crisis has affected Canada’s life expectancy at birth.
In 2017, The opioid crisis Cut life expectancy at birth by 0.07 years, according to Statistics Canada. Public Health Canada reported more than 19,300 opioid-related deaths from January 2016 to September 2020.
The country’s HIV epidemic, which killed about 18,300 people between 1987 and 2011, also contributed to a slight decline.
The main difference this time around is that COVID-19 has claimed a much greater number of lives in a much shorter period of time. However, those who died were significantly older on average than they had been during the other two health crises.
To understand the impact of these deaths, Statistics Canada estimated life expectancy had the pandemic not occurred, and calculated how much it would have changed when they factored in the COVID-19 death rate in 2020.
The agency used a 2019 average life expectancy of 82.1 years as a baseline for its calculations, because the actual life expectancy for 2020 will not be known until the number of non-COVID deaths is available for that year.
Life expectancy is used to measure the general health of a population, and it can help determine how well a country or region is doing compared to other places.
Quebec sees the biggest decline
Quebec, which was responsible for more than half of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths last year, has seen life expectancy fall by about 10 months — twice as much as in the rest of the country..
“This is consistent with the crisis we have seen in long-term care facilities,” said Tim Evans, director of the School of Population and Global Health at McGill University and executive director of the COVID-19 Immunology Task Force.
“They were understaffed, and they were not equipped to deal with this,” he said, describing the death toll in these homes as “very, very high.”
Life expectancy in Manitoba was the second hardest-hit region with a decrease of 0.6 years, followed by Ontario and Alberta.
By comparison, the estimated change in life expectancy in the Atlantic provinces and territories has been minimal, due to the relatively low number of COVID-19 deaths. These regions, which implemented stricter lockdowns at the start of the pandemic and stricter travel restrictions on their borders, have seen fewer cases of the virus than anywhere else in the country.
Canada performs better than other countries
Statistics Canada has found that Canada performs better than the United States and many other European countries, including France, Italy and Spain, when it comes to this indicator. But it was worse than Germany, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Australia and New Zealand.
Although the agency did not collect estimates for other countries, it used the data it published to make this comparison, said Patrice Dion, study author and statistician at Statistics Canada.
Citing similar research conducted in the United States, Dion said the impact of COVID-19 deaths on life expectancy in this country was three times worse than in Canada. “They came up with an estimate of 1.26 years [reduction],” He said.
This is because of Canada’s southern neighbor It has a much higher death rate than COVID It is attributed to the virus and that people there die from it at a younger age, he said.
Take the whole picture
Dion said that while Statistics Canada’s results are a good indication of how much the population is being taxed because of the virus, it’s important to keep in mind that they don’t reflect the whole picture.
“If you delay in medical care, it could have a negative impact on life expectancy, but there may have been fewer traffic accidents for example, and that could have a positive effect,” he said.
Creatore said that just looking at life expectancy also fails to show the damage done to our health care system. Will people suffer for years to come from the effects of delayed cancer screening, and inadequate chronic disease control?
It does not capture the ways in which the epidemic spreads Differently affected communities, she added. “Life expectancy can continue to decline for several years, because it is driven by widening inequalities between groups.”
Low-income and ethnically diverse neighborhoods experienced higher rates of injuries and deaths than more affluent residential areas.
“There is no single number that gives you the full impact of the pandemic, even less than the human toll,” Dion said.