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Covid-19 drove deaths up 16% in OECD countries and hit mental health, too, report finds

Covid-19 drove deaths up 16% in OECD countries and hit mental health, too, report finds

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a 16% rise in expected deaths among the 38 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, hitting overall life expectancy in 24 out of 30 members, the organization said Tuesday.

Life expectancy fell the most in Spain and the United States, the group said, with the United States losing 1.6 years of life per capita on average over the year and a half of the pandemic so far, and Spain losing 1.5 years, the OECD said.

"COVID 19 contributed, directly and indirectly, to a 16% increase in the expected number of deaths in 2020 and the first half of 2021 across OECD countries," the group said in its report.

The global death toll for Covid-19 passed the 5 million mark last week, according to John Hopkins University. The virus has killed more than 750,000 people in the United States alone. Several reports have shown it has impacted life expectancy in the US.

The report found little change in which countries enjoy the longest comparative life expectancies. "Japan, Switzerland and Spain lead a large group of 27 OECD countries in which life expectancy at birth exceeded 80 years in 2019," the report reads.

"A second group, including the United States and a number of central and eastern European countries, had a life expectancy between 77 and 80 years. Mexico and Latvia had the lowest life expectancy, at less than 76 years." Life expectancy has been growing over the past century, although that growth had slowed in recent years and the pandemic has had an acute effect.

"COVID 19 has disproportionately hit vulnerable populations. More than 90% of recorded COVID 19 deaths have occurred among those aged 60 and over. There has also been a clear social gradient, with disadvantaged people, those living in deprived areas, and most ethnic minorities and immigrants at higher risk of infection and death," the report added.

The OECD, which groups wealthy and mid-tier nations, and whose reports set some international standards for comparing spending, standards of living, health outcomes and other national goals, releases regular reports that attempt to parse out how health spending affects outcomes such as cancer care and overall life expectancy.

This year's report finds the death rate from Covid-19 in the US was close to the average for the OECD.

The group, which reports on nations as diverse as India, Indonesia, Japan, Switzerland and the US, analyzed Covid-19 death rates to find 1,824 Covid-19 deaths per 1 million population in 2020 and the first half of 2021 for the US. The US had 13,197 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people -- higher than the OECD average. Plus, the US has about average vaccination rates, with 55% of the population fully vaccinated at the time the report was written.

The UK had 2,232 Covid-19 deaths per million population, 11,608 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population and a vaccination rate of 66%. Japan had 117 Covid-19 deaths per 1 million population, 1,347 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population and a vaccination rate of 61.2%. Canada had 699 Covid-19 deaths per 1 million population, 4,347 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 population and a vaccination rate of 71.2%.

Pandemic raises global rates of depression, anxiety

The report found big increases in certain mental illnesses with the pandemic.

"The mental health impact of the pandemic has been huge, with prevalence of anxiety and depression more than double levels observed pre-crisis in most countries with available data, most notably in Mexico, the United Kingdom and the United States," it said.

"The prevalence of anxiety and depression in early 2020 was double or more the level observed in previous years in a number of countries, including Belgium, France, the United Kingdom and the United States," it added.

"In France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression increased during periods when there were peaks in COVID 19 infections and deaths, and when there were increased containment measures in place," it said, citing reports from public health departments in France and the UK and the US National Center for Health Statistics.

"The mental health impact of the pandemic has been particularly hard for the doctors, nurses, long-term care workers, and other health care workers working in close proximity to patients," the organization said in its report.

"Healthcare workers have reported high rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, and turnover since the onset of the pandemic," the report reads.

"In the United States, a survey of frontline health workers found that more than three fifths (62%) reported that the stress or worry over COVID 19 affected their mental health negatively, and close to half (49%) reported that the stress had affected their physical health," it adds. "Almost one third of respondents reported needing or having received mental health services due to the pandemic."

And nurses may have been affected more than doctors. "A survey of 33 national nursing associations found that three fifths reported sometimes or regularly receiving reports from nurses about mental health distress linked to the pandemic," the report added, citing a survey conducted by the International Council of Nurses.

"In a survey of the workforce across the European Union, 70% of workers in the health sector -- more than any other sector of the workforce -- report that they believed their job put them at risk of COVID 19 infection," the report reads.

"In a March 2020 survey of health care workers in Italy, close to half (49%) exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and one quarter symptoms of depression. Frontline workers had significantly higher odds of exhibiting post-traumatic stress syndrome than those who did not report working with COVID 19 patients," it added.

"An April 2020 survey of health care professionals in Spain found that close to three fifths of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety (59%) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (57%), with close to half (46%) exhibiting symptoms of depression. In England (United Kingdom), nearly half of respondents to the NHS (National Health Service) staff survey (44%) reported feeling unwell due to work-related stress over the previous year, a 9% increase from 2019."

Pandemic causes spike in health care spending, too

The pandemic caused a spike in health spending across many of the organization's 38 member nations, the report found.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in health spending across the OECD. Coupled with reductions in economic activity, the average health spending to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio jumped from 8.8% in 2019 to 9.7% in 2020, across OECD countries with available data.

"Countries severely affected by the pandemic reported unprecedented increases. The United Kingdom estimated an increase from 10.2% in 2019 to 12.8% in 2020, while Slovenia anticipated its share of spending on health rising from 8.5% to more than 10%," the report reads.

The ratio for the US was the highest for all the OECD by far in 2019, at 16.8% of GDP, but a figure was not available for 2020. "With the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, initial data for 2020 points to a sharp increase in overall health spending, of around 5.1% on average," the report reads.

And the US remained at the head of the pack in terms of overall health spending. "The United States spends considerably more than any other country (almost $11,000 per person, adjusted for purchasing power, in 2019)," the report reads. For comparison, Japan spends an average of $4,691 per person on health care and the UK spends $4,500.

Health care spending per capita is also high in Switzerland, Norway and Germany.

Seven countries spend much less per person on average on health care but have higher than average life expectancy, the report noted. "These seven countries are Italy, Korea, Portugal, Spain, Slovenia, Greece and Israel," the report reads. "The only country in the bottom right quadrant is the United States, with much higher spending than in all other OECD countries, but lower life expectancy than the OECD average."


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