People, some wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, soak up the sun in an outdoor seating area in the Luxembourg Gardens, Paris. Photo / AP
By Ilan Noy and Nguyen Doan – Victoria University of Wellington
What have we lost due to the pandemic? By our calculations, many – and many of the countries and regions most affected are far from receiving global media attention.
Typically, the damage caused by a disaster is measured in separate categories: the number of deaths and injuries it caused and the financial damage it caused (directly or indirectly).
Only by bringing these various measures together into an aggregate total can we begin to paint a more complete picture of the burden of disasters, including pandemics.
They do this on the basis of surveys asking people how much they are willing to pay to reduce certain risks (for example, improving a road they often take), or by calculating the additional compensation people ask for when they occupy. high-risk jobs (for example, as a diver on an oil rig).
By looking at the amount of money people associate with small changes in mortality risk, we can then calculate the overall price of a “statistical life“as rated by the average person.
By adding the monetary value of property damage to the “priced” value of life lost (or injured), the overall cost of an adverse event (such as an earthquake or epidemic) can be calculated.
Calculation of “ years of life lost ”
But the prices of the “value of life” can vary considerably from country to country and even within the same country. There is also an understandable public distaste for putting a price tag on human life. Governments usually do not openly discuss these calculations, making it difficult to assess their legitimacy.
An alternative is a “index of years of life lost“. It is based on the measurement of the World Health Organization (WHO).”disability-corrected life years“(DALY), calculated for a long list of diseases and published in an annual account of associated human costs.
In conventional measures of the impact of disaster risk, the unit used is the dollar. For this alternative index, the unit of measurement is “years of life lost“- the loss of the equivalent of a year of full health.
This is a sum of three key measures of the impact of the pandemic: the years of life lost due to death and illness due to disease, and the equivalent years lost due to the decline in activity. economic. The map below shows these figures per person, in order to allow a relevant comparison between countries.
For example, on the map above, we see that Australia has a years of life lost figure of 0.02. This means that on average, every person in Australia has lost just over seven days of life to the pandemic. In New Zealand, where fewer people have died and there have only been a few thousand cases, the figure is 0.01, meaning each person lost less than four days of life.
In India, on the other hand, the average person lost almost 15 days and in Peru the equivalent figure is 25 days. This loss is based on a combination of the precipitous recession and the deaths and illnesses caused directly by the virus.
So how do you put this in context? Is the 25-day loss a catastrophic loss that justifies the kind of public action we have seen around the world? We can answer this question by comparing the impact of Covid-19 to other disasters.
The price of a pandemic
When we compare the total global costs of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 with the average annual costs associated with all other disasters over the past 20 years, we find that the pandemic has indeed been extremely costly (in terms of years of life lost).
And this despite the last two decades having seen many catastrophic events: horrible tsunamis in Indonesia (2004) and Japan (2011), very damaging hurricanes in the United States (2005 and 2017), high mortality cyclone in Myanmar (2008) , earthquakes in India (2001), Pakistan (2005), China (2008), Haiti (2010) and Nepal (2015), and others.
The graph below shows the years of life lost in 2020 by continent, per person, due to Covid-19 compared to the average annual cost of all other disasters 2000-2019. As we can see, the costs of the pandemic are much higher – more than three times higher in Asia and more than 30 times higher in Europe.
The most vulnerable countries have been small open economies like Fiji, Maldives and Belize, which depend heavily on the export of services, especially tourism.
These are not necessarily countries that have seen a high number of deaths from the pandemic, but their overall loss is staggering.
More generally, the per capita loss associated with Covid-19 is particularly high in most countries in Latin America, southern Africa, southern Europe, India and some Pacific islands. This is in stark contrast to where global media attention has been directed (US, UK and EU).
Costs will continue to rise
These measures are only for 2020. Clearly, the pandemic continues to rage and will most likely continue to impact the global economy until 2022. Many of the negative economic impacts will still be felt for years to come.
Worryingly, some of the countries that have already suffered the greatest economic impact have also been slow to get sufficient doses of the vaccine for their populations. They may well see their economic recession continue next year, especially with bigger and richer countries resources to buy vaccines first.
Much of the public and media attention has focused on the death toll and the immediate economic impact of Covid-19. But the human and social costs associated with this economic loss are potentially much greater, especially in the poorest countries.
The heavy burden borne by many small countries has to some extent been overlooked. Countries like Lebanon and the Maldives are experiencing dramatic and painful crises, largely under the radar of global attention.
However, our conclusion that the human cost of economic loss may be much greater than the cost associated with loss of health does not imply that public policies such as lockdowns, border restrictions and quarantines have been unjustified.
On the contrary, countries that have experienced a deeper health crisis have also experienced a deeper economic crisis. There was no effective trade-off between saving lives and saving livelihoods.